O’Brien’s journey landed him with Cutters

When Stoney O’Brien didn’t hear his name called during the 2017 MLB Draft, he couldn’t hide his disappointment. He had a strong senior season at the University of Oklahoma and, even though he dealt with an injury, he thought he had done enough to warrant being one of the more than 1,200 players selected.

He didn’t sulk over the outcome of the draft, though. He knew there was another avenue he could take to reach pro baseball, so he took it. O’Brien spent the end of last summer playing with the Lake Erie Crushers of the Independent Frontier League.

It was there that O’Brien proved himself and earned a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Phillies in January. O’Brien is now a first baseman for the Williamsport Crosscutters.

His journey to this point was far from typical, but it got him to where he wanted to be nonetheless.

“I worked for this my whole life,” O’Brien said during the Cutters’ Media Day on Wednesday. “Once my name didn’t get called, it was disappointing, but I still had a passion for the game and I thought I could still help teams win.”

O’Brien grew up in a baseball family. His dad, John, was a draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1991 and he played in the New York-Penn League for Hamilton (Ontario) in that 1991 season. He played three seasons in the Cardinals organization, hitting .267 with 36 home runs in 246 games before joining the Texas-Louisiana League’s Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings, an Independent League team.

John O’Brien played in the Texas-Louisiana League until 2001, and even spent some time in the league as a manager. So as a kid, O’Brien’s life revolved around baseball. He’d go on bus trips with the team and be in the clubhouse as a youngster.

And not to mention, his uncle, Charlie O’Brien was a catcher in the big leagues for 15 seasons and pioneered the hockey-style catcher’s mask. So playing baseball is in O’Brien’s blood.

Even O’Brien’s name, Stoney, comes from a baseball background. His given name is Austin, but he struggled to field ground balls as a kid and his dad said he had stone hands, leading to the nickname Stoney.

“I’ve been around the game ever since I was born,” O’Brien said. “I love watching the game and talking about hitting and trying to learn as much as I can. So I want to keep learning and get better every day.”

Coming out of high school, O’Brien was the Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year. That transitioned into a solid freshman season for the Sooners where he hit .283 and drove in 20 runs in 40 games.

He struggled a bit as a sophomore and junior before hitting .290 with 8 home runs and a .523 slugging percentage in an injury-shortened season. He showed some of that power after signing with Lake Erie in the Frontier League, hitting six home runs in 37 games.

“That’s definitely something I can bring to a baseball team, is the ability to hit for some power, especially to the opposite field,” O’Brien said. “I think that’s something pretty rare to find in this game, so I’m going to continue to work with my strengths and try to minimize my weaknesses.”

O’Brien is the oldest player on the Cutters’ roster at 24 years old. He understands it means he needs to show right away he’s capable of playing on this level. But it’s not something he’s worried about.

After taking the path he has just to get to affiliated baseball, he’s just happy to have the opportunity to be a member of the Phillies’ organization.

“You have to start somewhere and I’m really thankful to start in Williamsport,” O’Brien said. “It’s a beautiful park and I know the community really rallies around this team and loves this team. The Phillies believed in me and believed in what I can do, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to show what I can do.”