Though he came into professional baseball as a catcher, the Yankees started moving him around to different positions, including third base and right field. Late in spring training the Diamondbacks decided to shift him primarily to the outfield so he could focus more on his hitting.
"Catching is a lot of fun, but I really enjoy the outfield and I definitely think that my bat is my biggest strength," O'Brien said, per the Arizona Republic. "I think that plays a little bit better in the outfield."
Now with Triple-A Reno, O'Brien is hitting better than ever. Through his first 27 games, the 24-year-old owns a .369/.393/.709 hitting line with eight home runs and 28 RBI.
"It kind of cleared my mind a little bit and let me be in the lineup every single day and focus more on the bat," he said. "It's been great so far. When we made the move in spring training, it's kind of exactly what I had in mind."
"I think he's going to play some outfield (once the minor league season starts) and catching isn't out of the question, but we're still talking internally to figure out what's best for him," farm director Mike Bell said.
While the team has been reluctant to publicly acknowledge O'Brien's catching issues, he's unlikely to be the long-term answer behind the plate, as general manager Dave Stewart reportedly indicated in January. The Diamondbacks figure to roll with Tuffy Gosewisch as the team's primary catcher unless an addition is made.
Players cut from the Major League team included:
Simple things such as tossing the ball back to the pitcher or throwing the ball to third base after a strikeout have been wild. Via the Arizona Republic, O'Brien said he is working on gaining better control when throwing the ball.
"It's part of the game," O'Brien said. "We throw the baseball so much. I've been working on it, getting it under control and making sure I keep the tempo of the game up and keep working from there."
O'Brien chalked up the issues to playing a lot of different positions a year ago. Now that he's behind the plate, he said it's just a matter of repetition.
"I played a lot of different positions last year and had a lot of different arm angles," he said. "Now being back behind the plate full time, it's making sure I keep my arm slot consistent back there and keep throwing it and keep the tempo of the game up.
"I've always had a strong arm, but the biggest thing has been being able to use it," O'Brien said. "I'm trying to get a little more momentum going toward second base and that's definitely helped me out and my direction, just trying to shorten up those feet and trying to be more direct in line to second base."
Diamondbacks pitching prospect Archie Bradley, who has worked with O'Brien at Double-A Mobile and in the Arizona Fall League, has noticed the improvements in O'Brien's game.
"The improvements he's made catching, throwing guys out, his footwork, everything [is better]," Bradley said. "He's obviously a very gifted athlete, but to see him put in the work and to see the improvements he's made, it doesn't surprise me at all. He's improved a lot."
Battling to win the starting catcher job this spring, O'Brien is 4 for 9 with three walks in five games.
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