Continuing on with our prospect per day. Today: Princeton catcher Justin O'Conner.
Justin O'Conner struck out a lot. That's probably not news to you, but it's obviously the first thing that needs to be discussed with him. After signing quickly as the 31st overall pick in 2010, O'Conner played 48 games in the Gulf Coast League to a .211/.301/.348 line - disappointing but not a disaster. Promoted to Princeton in 2011, he played in the same number of games (he had 10 more plate appearances in 2011), so let's see which way his numbers went:
Stat 2010 2011
Batting Average .211 .157
On-Base Percentage .301 .234
Slugging Percentage .348 .354
Doubles 13 8
Home Runs 3 9
Walks 18 17
Strikeouts 46 78
He actually hit for good power when he happened to make contact as his 8 doubles and 9 home runs account for 17 of his 28 hits. But he went from striking out roughly once per game, a 24.6% K%. In 2011 that jumped 15% up to 39.%. That was third-worst in all of the minors, trailing only Juan Romero of the Indians in the AZL (43.5%) and the Red Sox' Seth Schwindenhammer in the NY-PL at 47.1%. Romero hit .225 and Schwindenhammer .213, and it's not hard to guess that a metric ton of strikeouts are going to lead to a low batting average. O'Conner wasn't helped by a .207 BABIP, but even if you bump that up, it maybe brings him over the Mendoza line.
So is there any hope for him? I think there is. O'Conner still made BA's Appalachian League top 20, because the tools that made him a first rounder -- big power, big arm -- are still there. He threw out 36% of baserunners and should be able to stick behind the dish, meaning he won't have to hit as much as if he were a third or first baseman.
While Drew Vettleson, Ryan Brett, and maybe even Josh Sale (who also struggled in Princeton, but didn't have anywhere near the swing-and-miss that O'Conner did) should be in Bowling Green next season, there's little doubt that O'Conner belongs in extended spring training to start the year and work on his swing. Then he'll likely head to Hudson Valley, where the hope is he can get his strikeouts back down to once per game and be happy with that, as he's probably never going to excel at making contact.