Michael O’Neill and Patrick Biondi will be staying in the same city after all.
The two outfielders played together at Michigan for three seasons, and now their future baseball careers have them crossing paths in New York City. O’Neill was drafted in the third round (103rd overall) by the New York Yankees, while Biondi waited a few rounds before the New York Mets selected him in the ninth round (266th overall).
“It was a dream come true,” O’Neill said. “Being able to follow my uncle is a pretty cool thing, too.”
O’Neill didn’t wait long to sign with the Yankees, as he’s already reported to Staten Island, the short-season A affiliate of the Yankees, this past Tuesday. In the season opener that night against Brooklyn, O’Neill went 2-for-4 with a double. Biondi will likely join the Mets affiliate, Brooklyn, in the New York-Penn League with O’Neill in the coming weeks.
During the early stages of their careers, O’Neill will likely still be utilized at his natural center or right field position, while Biondi is a bit more flexible in playing the outfield or second base.
O’Neill led the Wolverines in almost every offensive category this season, including batting average (.356), slugging percentage (.498), runs scored (46), hits (85), doubles (17), home runs (5) and stolen bases (23). His remarkable offensive production, alongside his improved range in the outfield, earned him a spot on the All Big Ten first team in 2013.
Biondi was only 100% healthy for the first 15 games of the 2013 campaign, according to Michigan coach Erik Bakich. But he fought through a sprained right thumb and a bruised lung to rank second on the team, behind O’Neill, in runs scored (40). Despite being left off any All Big Ten teams, he captained this year’s squad to its first Big Ten Tournament appearance since 2010.
In the Yankees’ system, O’Neill now follows the footsteps of his uncle, Paul O’Neill, who was a Yankees star outfielder during the team’s late-1990s championship seasons. Michael grew up watching his uncle play at Yankee Stadium, and now it’s Paul’s turn to sit back and follow the career of his nephew.
“He was really excited for me and I was really excited to have this opportunity again,” O’Neill said. “I was pretty happy to be drafted by New York, and now he gets to follow my career from the outside looking in. He can watch me go through it without the stress of playing everyday.”
It was always O’Neill’s wish to play for the Yankees, and that interest seemed reciprocal dating back to the 2010 draft when the Yankees selected him straight out of high school in the 42nd round. Typically a rarity in the MLB draft, O’Neill was fortunate enough to be selected by the same team in different drafts. And now, rising from a 42nd to third round pick, the path to the big leagues seems much less obstructed.
“The reason you’re here playing in minors is to get to big leagues. Hopefully I can have a good career and get to the big leagues as quickly as possible. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Until that day comes that O’Neill and Biondi break through into the big leagues, both Wolverines are simply enjoying the experience in the next chapter of their baseball careers. Biondi mentioned the reality of it all would sink in after receiving a phone call on draft day, but O’Neill is still waiting for it all to hit him at once.
“Honestly, I told my mom that it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” O’Neill said. “The signing bonus hasn’t gone through or anything so it feels like summer ball. It’s just playing with a bunch of new guys and college guys.”
It’s a bigger step than just another hot season of summer baseball, but O’Neill and Biondi are surely aware of that. For now, they’ll cherish the beginning of a long journey to checking that final box off of their childhood bucket list. And in the batters’ box, look for O’Neill and Biondi to make waves through the minor leagues for years to come.