Rays Prospects

Rays 2016 Top 50 Prospect: Number 17, Justin O’Conner

By Mat Germain
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Rays Top 50 Prospects includes a tremendous number of high-quality prospects. We at RCG are bringing you an in-depth look at those we consider to be the Top 50.


While gathering as much information as possible from various sources, we’re going to put it all together for your enjoyment and raise the bar on what you expect from a prospect knowledgable site. Stay tuned, check-in often, and please let us know how we’re doing.

Being such a lengthy process, some encouragement will go a very long way. We hope you’ll enjoy reading this series as much as we enjoy putting it together. If anything, all of us will know that much more about the quality of the Rays system.

More from Rays Colored Glasses

We’ll go through this exercise in an odd way, to make things more interesting. The first one to be looked at will be #40, then #30, then #20, and #10. Then we’ll go through 41, 31, 21, and 11. We’ll go through each ranking until we are all done 11-50, all aside from the Top 10. Then we’ll have a regular countdown for the top 10.

The rankings will be based on all aspects of each prospect, but will focus first on how likely the player is to make an impact in MLB, and ceiling next. Mikie Mahtook and Enny Romero have been graduated to the majors and will not be included in these rankings.

Once completed, the Top 50 will be updated mid-season with an explanation to why they’re moving up or down, and the entire process will be repeated each season.

The next player to be examined in detail is …

#17: Justin Douglass O’Conner, C, 23 years old

  • Bats: Right  Ht/Wt: 6’0″ 190 lbs
  • Drafted: in the 1st rd, 31st overall, of the 2010 MLB draft
  • Signed: for $1.025 million
  • 2015 Affiliate: Montgomery, AA
  • Anticipated MLB Arrival: 2017+

O’Conner’s Stats

O’Conner’s Fielding Stats

O’Conner’s 2015 Splits

Player Facts

Best O’Conner quotes:

"“For me, picking guys off and throwing them out is one of the funnest things about being a catcher. It’s exciting,” and “If you see a guy get a big lead and put his head down as he heads back, if that’s his routine, maybe we can get him,”"

Detractors are plentiful. Here’s a quote from BA’s Matt Eddy (Oct.2015):

"“evaluators consistently dinged O’Conner for a long release on throws to 2B and for ordinary receiving and blocking skills. At the plate, his grooved swing is good for extra-base power, provided the ball is located in his sweet spot, but hitting quality breaking stuff is always going to be a challenge for him.”"

Best Tools & Abilities

  • Above-Average Athletic Ability
  • Cannon of an Arm
  • Raw Power
  • Grades: Hit 20/45, Game Power 20/50, Raw Power 55/55, Field 40/50+, Throws 80/80

Video

Our Thoughts

Perhaps the most divisive prospect the Rays have had in recent times, people either love his stuff or doubt his abilities altogether. In our case, we’d need to be able to project an average above the .200 level in MLB before we include him in the top 10 Rays prospects. It’s too bad really, because with his defensive abilities and competitive makeup, he should be a true top-of-the-line catcher who is expected to lead his team on and off the field.

More from Rays Prospects

There may not be a catcher out there with as strong an arm as O’Conner has. It’s a true cannon, rated 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His pop times have been clocked in the 1.7 range, and he is aggressive in continuously wanting to get runners off the base paths, picking them off whenever he sees an opportunity. Still, his receiving skills and overall play behind the plate gets average reviews, with few expecting him to be above-average in any area aside from his CS rates and pickoffs.

Offensively, O’conner is a frustrating prospect to project. While you can see that the power exists and that when he does make contact, it’s a potent force, the contact rate just isn’t consistent enough to project anything above the mendoza line in MLB. AA pitchers have shown that O’Conner can be attacked with breaking stuff effectively and that has resulted in a spike in strike outs (29.1%) combined with a lower number of walks (2.9%) and low OBP.

His full season in AA didn’t do O’Conner any favours and he’s displayed many holes in his game. The power remains, and his potential defensively remains strong, but if he’s going to be considered as a true number one catcher, he needs to revamp his approach at the plate and/or his swing.

Expectations

With the way his season went offensively, the Rays should have O’Conner continue to play in AA in an attempt to build up his confidence at the plate before promoting him to MLB. Nobody’s giving up on O’Conner any time soon, but his steady and continuous struggles at the plate in AA in 2015 gave many of us doubts about whether or not he’ll become more than a backup catcher in MLB.

There are plenty of catchers out there who go through offensive struggles for various reasons but figure things out as they enter MLB. Should O’Conner put in the work, take advice, and work through his struggles at the plate, he could surprise many of the detractors. If he places most of his efforts on that front in 2016, we expect he could make the jump to AAA at some point and compete for a spot in TB for 2017.

Conclusion

There must be a lot of effort going towards helping O’Conner through his struggles at the plate in Montgomery. With his work ethic and makeup, he’s undoubtedly putting in the work required and should improve on his 2015 performance as a result. Just how much he improves is what will determine his true ceiling. With so many projecting him as a backup catcher, and the fact that pitchers will be even more fierce in picking on his deficiencies at the plate in MLB, we can’t rank O’Conner much ahead of many others on this list that project to challenge for starting spots.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Top 50 Prospects List: 2016 Pre-Season

While it’s almost a foregone conclusion that he’ll make it to a role on an MLB team based on his defensive abilities alone, his bat may ultimately hold him back from being a number one catcher. We’re not going to be against him at all and we truly believe he could turn things around offensively, which would make him one of the top 5-10 catcher prospects in MLB. We hope he proves all detractors wrong in 2016 and look forward to a better offensive season!

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