After twelve games with the Trenton Thunder, one thing about Peter O’Brien is clear. His power is a trait that has rarely been seen in the Eastern League before. To his new manager Tony Franklin, O’Brien is a player in uncharted territory.
“No. Never. It hasn’t happened in the eight seasons I’ve been here. He’s the first,” Franklin said when asked if he had ever seen a player hit for this type of power right away in Double-A. “We’ve had some guys here with legitimate power…When you see Pete hit a baseball, you have to say to yourself, that’s a little different than everyone else.”
“There’s something special about a guy who can stand up there and hit a ball 300-plus feet and put three runs on the board,” Franklin added. “Pete’s got easy power. That ball he hit here the other night, it just was very towering. Once it left the bat, I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t look up high enough. It was out of the ballpark in a hurry.”
The shot described by Franklin has become a frequent happening in O’Brien’s short tenure with the team. In just twelve games as a member of the Thunder, the former second-round draft choice has ripped seven home runs. Between Trenton and High-A Tampa this season, O’Brien has laced 17 home runs, second in Minor League Baseball behind only Texas Rangers top prospect Joey Gallo.
Despite some scouts believing he has holes in his swing, O’Brien’s bat has left a good first impression on Franklin during his first two weeks with the Thunder.
“When you see Pete hit a baseball, you have to say to yourself, ‘That’s a little different than everyone else’,” Franklin told me. “He puts a swing on the ball and he squares the ball up, and the ball will go out of the ballpark. That’s pretty doggone good. Barry Bonds had that kind of power. It’s pretty obvious to me the kid’s got something very special about him.”
The comparisons to legendary power hitters did not stop there. Hall-of-Famer and former Yankee outfielder Reggie Jackson was at ARM & HAMMER Park for a four-game series against the Harrisburg Senators that concluded on Thursday. In speaking with Jackson prior to the series finale, the Special Advisor to the Yankees voiced his admiration of O’Brien.
“Oh boy,” Jackson said while raising an eyebrow. “You gotta look at Strawberry to see that kind of power.”
“He hits like me,” the Hall-of-Famer turned Special Advisor to the Yankees added. “And that’s a compliment.”
Jackson did not stop there, indicating that O’Brien’s power reminded him of great home run hitters such as Dave Kingman, Dick Allen, and Willie McCovey.
O’Brien’s ability to put the ball over the wall in any direction is not the only thing being noticed by Franklin and Jackson.
“It’s loud,” Franklin said of the sound the ball makes leaving O’Brien’s bat. “It’s different from all the other hitters…It’s the contact of the bat and the ball. It’s a totally different sound.”
Jackson concurred with Franklin’s assessment, indicating that the bat speed at impact with the ball is what leads to O’Brien hitting some of the loudest balls he’s ever seen.
As the legend of Peter O’Brien continues to grow through the minor leagues and the power comparisons to Hall-of-Famers such as Jackson and McCovey continue, it seems as if it would be difficult for a 23-year-old to maintain his focus on developing. For O’Brien, the focus is simply on remaining as consistent as possible in his approach, a task that can be difficult as he attempts to develop as a catcher while experimenting at different positions.
“I’m trying to be as consistent as possible with everything,” O’Brien said. “I know the things that I can do well, and I think [the key] is trying to make those things as consistent as possible.”
“Right now, catching is my priority,” O’Brien added. “I’m always going to give catching the benefit of the doubt, that’s always going to be first when I have to work on something.”