Tyler O’Neill was 20 minutes early.
The Tacoma Rainiers had just finished their first workout Monday at Cheney Stadium before gathering for the team’s media day in the upstairs Summit Club.
O’Neill had enough time to get dressed, chat with his parents, Terry and Marilyn, who made the four-hour drive from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, and report to the banquet room ahead of his teammates.
Except he wasn’t there to talk about how he’s evolved into Seattle’s most exciting five-tool prospect in the Safeco Field era. He was there to grab a plate of food and find a nearby television to watch the first pitch of the Mariners’ season opener in Houston.
He ate fast. He studied the screen intently. And he paced around the table quickly.
Yes, Tyler O’Neill is a body in motion. And nobody is certain how long the budding 21-year-old outfielder will remain with the Rainiers, who open their season at 7:05 p.m. Thursday in Sacramento.
“We are day-to-day,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said earlier this spring. “Once you get in Tyler’s position, and you’ve had an MVP season in Double-A, and made the progression to Triple-A — any day is your day (to get promoted).”
Since O’Neill is Canadian — and a product of the same high-profile Langley Blaze youth baseball pipeline — the player many want to compare him to is Brett Lawrie, formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays, Oakland A’s and Chicago White Sox.
Like Lawrie, O’Neill is a compact bundle of bulging, fast-twitch muscles. They are both right-handed hitters who fly out of their cleats during at-bats. Lawrie is listed as 6 feet tall and 210 pounds. O’Neill is 5-11 and 205 pounds.
“That (Lawrie) comparison was big when I was in high school,” O’Neill said. “But I think people can see now that we’re two completely different players.”
O’Neill’s power-hitting potential is noticeably higher — much higher. Lawrie has hit 71 career homers in the majors in six seasons, with a high of 16 in 2015 with Oakland. O’Neill hit 24 homers last year in Double-A Jackson, and 32 the previous year at high Single-A Bakersfield.
“You will watch him in batting practice, and he will have as much or more power than anybody else on the field,” Dipoto said. “Even at (the major-league) level.”
It starts with the way he was raised: O’Neill’s father is a former star bodybuilder — “Mr. Canada” in 1975, in fact. Terry O’Neill loved hockey, and wanted his son to give it a shot.
“I took skating lessons when I was 3, and I played hockey since I was 5,” Tyler O’Neill said. “Everybody does it: You play hockey when you are in Canada.”
O’Neill played other sports as well, including lacrosse and rugby.
“I played rugby in eighth and ninth grades before I got serious about baseball,” O’Neill said. “I had to cut it out. Rugby is a dangerous sport.”
Ultimately, before heading off to Garibaldi Secondary School (Canada’s version of high school), O’Neill knew he had to choose one sport to focus on.
“Baseball was the one,” O’Neill said. “But regardless, my dad taught me really to work hard. Nothing was handed to me. He forced me to shoot pucks in the garage after I got home from school before hockey practice, or hit off a tee ... before a baseball game.”
After the Mariners picked him in the third round, just weeks before his 18th birthday, in the 2013 amateur draft, O’Neill’s stock grew dramatically after his performance at the World Junior Championships in Taiwan later that summer.
He nearly hit for the cycle and drove in five runs in Team Canada’s win over the Czech Republic. The next day, O’Neill mashed a three-run homer in a loss against Venezuela.
He finished the tournament batting .385, with an event-best three home runs, four doubles and 14 RBIs in six games.
“I definitely didn’t realize it back then, but looking back on it now, I would not be where I am if that didn’t happen,” O’Neill said.
In 2014, he ripped 13 homers while playing at three low Single-A stops. He nearly tripled that output in 2015 in Bakersfield. Later that summer, he was part of Team Canada’s gold medal-winning squad in the Pan American Games.
The power was obvious, but Dipoto wanted to see more consistent at-bats from O’Neill last season. O’Neill responded by hitting .293, with an on-base percentage of .374, to go along with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs. That earned him MVP honors in the Southern League.
“He was definitely the star player on that team. He carried us on his back quite a bit with some big homers — and big hits,” said catcher Steven Baron, who spent the season in Jackson and is again a teammate with O’Neill on the Rainiers.
“You are going to see a lot of baseballs hit very hard here. And he has good trajectory on them to get them out of the (ballpark). He’s also fast. He’s got five tools. He is going to draw a big crowd.”
This spring O’Neill returned to Team Canada and played in three games of the World Baseball Classic. He had a hit in 11 at-bats.
For the Rainiers, he’ll play left or right field and provide plenty of highlights, manager Pat Listach said.
“He is young. He’s explosive. When he throws the ball, people will go, ‘Ooh!’ ” Listach said. “And when he hits the ball, people will go, ‘Ooh!’ He is special. He is the complete player.”
O’Neill said he will do his best to show the Mariners he is ready to join the big leagues.
“Anything can happen,” he said. “I am going to play every day and see what happens.”