There is one truly undeniable fact about Peter O’Brien.
The guy can mash.
Be it as a catcher or as an outfielder, O’Brien has never had trouble depositing baseballs into the outfield bleachers. He hit 92 home runs over four minor league seasons, and has carried a .273 batting average to go along with the power.
Over 49 at-bats in 19 games this spring, he has batted .286 with four home runs (including a moon shot Tuesday night — see below) and 14 RBI.
Now 25, he would seem like a lock to make the Opening Day roster except for the fact that the D-backs do not really have a place to put him. O’Brien came up through the minors as a catcher, but moved to outfield last season, and that is where he has received the bulk of his work this spring.
A guest of Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday, O’Brien said he played in the infield all through college and did not start catching until he went to college at Miami.
“In college you don’t really have much of a say of where you’re going to play,” he explained. “It’s kind of, ‘hey, you swing the bat, this is where you fit in for the next four years, this is where you’re going to play.’
“In high school I hit a big growth spurt, couldn’t really play middle infield anymore — got a little bit too slow, a little bit too big — I had a really good arm, could swing the bat and they thought they’d try me out behind the plate.”
O’Brien said he enjoyed catching during college and even during his time as a professional, but the decision to move from behind the plate to the outfield was not so much made because he did not want to catch but instead because when he was not focused on what was going on behind the plate, the rest of his game picked up.
Last season, his first full campaign with Triple-A Reno, he slugged 26 home runs, drove in 107 runs and batted .284. Freed from having to worry about calling a game and managing pitchers, he was able to be the kind of hitter that has so many people excited about his future.
“It was nice,” O’Brien said of the switch. “I got to kind of focus on myself a little bit more as a hitter and see some faults and weaknesses and try to work on those and try to get a little better in that aspect of the game.”
While O’Brien has enjoyed his time away from the plate, he’s in no way closing the door on returning to his former spot behind it.
“I think catching is definitely still in the mix,” he said. “I reported to camp as a catcher, pitcher/catcher camp, and went through all that and felt great. Once the position players got here we kind of moved to the outfield and started focusing on that.
“It’s definitely still there. I’ve still got my gear, I still do some work here and there. But I think the biggest thing right now is just focus on my bat and wherever that plays the best and see where I can help the team in that way.”
In terms of where he must play in order to best help the D-backs, O’Brien said he’s lucky to be with an organization that has done a good job of communicating their plans for him. He said his approach this season was to not worry about the things he cannot control and instead just made sure to do the best he could at whatever was asked of him that day.
“Right now that’s swing the bat,” he said. “Whether that’s going to be behind the plate, at first base or in the outfield — right now I’m primarily an outfielder and that’s where I’ve been getting most of my work in, and I feel great.
“But if they were to come to me tomorrow and say, ‘Hey, we want you to go behind the plate again,’ I’m OK with that too. I’m here to be the best player I can be and help the Diamondbacks win a world championship.”