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2013-06-06

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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Michael O’Neill and Patrick Biondi prepare for the MLB Draft

Ruby Wallau/Daily
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By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Writer
Published June 5, 2013

At age 18, Michael O’Neill was sure he would make it to the MLB. He did, and then turned the opportunity down.

Patrick Biondi figured he had a chance when he was 16, and tomorrow might be the day he proves himself right.

For O’Neill, the dream of being drafted by an MLB team became more and more realistic during his career at Olentangy Liberty High School in Powell, Ohio.

“I got drafted out of high school, so probably my senior year it became a reality,” O’Neill said. “Being drafted was a pretty neat experience, but I definitely needed to go to college.”

For Biondi, Divine Child High School in Dearborn, Mich was home to his knack for base stealing and superior fielding abilities. Throughout high school, Biondi spent time on the court and the diamond, attempting to decide on whether he should pursue playing basketball or baseball collegiately. But in his junior year, he helped his baseball team to a state championship and, shortly after, he began to focus solely on baseball. In hindsight, he probably made the right decision.

For both O’Neill and Biondi, this upcoming weekend should close the book on a long-awaited journey to professional baseball. From June 6 to June 8, the MLB draft (officially known as the First-Year Player Draft) will take place in Secaucus, New Jersey. Since Biondi has already graduated from Michigan, he won’t have much say in where he’s heading for the next step of his baseball career. But O’Neill, as a senior next season, will be able to weigh his options on whether or not to forgo his final year of eligibility at Michigan.

MLB draft rules allow for a player to enter the draft after his junior year of college or his 21st birthday. If drafted, all players have until July 12 to make a decision on whether to sign with their respective teams.

“I’m pretty sure I’m gonna sign after I weigh options,” O’Neill said. “But I always have the option to come back to Michigan, which is nice.”

Neither Biondi nor O’Neill will be in New Jersey this weekend, but the likelihood of them receiving a phone call from an MLB representative is very high. According to Baseball America’s Top-500 prospect rankings, O’Neill and Biondi sit at 79 and 247, respectively.

Just this past season, both players have made significant strides during Michigan coach Erik Bakich’s first year at the helm. O’Neill has vastly improved his mental strength at the plate by increasing his patience and swinging at the pitches he chooses, instead of letting the pitcher dictate the at-bat.

“Mentally is where we saw him make the biggest jumps,” Bakich said. “He had a good plan going up to the plate and executing his plan. He’s an extremely aggressive hitter and I thought he did a very good job at being aggressive with the pitches he was looking for.”

This season, O’Neill led the team with 17 doubles and an impressive .498 slugging percentage, thanks to his more intensive approach at the plate. Many times, he would let fastballs go by so that he could sit on the pitches he was expecting and drive them to gaps in the outfield.

“If he continues to do that throughout his career, you’re going to see his power numbers and his slugging percentage increase,” Bakich said.

The ceiling for O’Neill’s offensive production is extremely high, and with a rocket of an arm in the outfield, his defense also remains a noteworthy asset for interested teams.

Biondi, too, has been highly touted for his superior defensive abilities, along with great speed on the base paths. His late-season position change from center field to second base allowed for him to become even more versatile in both the infield and outfield. As an undersized, left-handed speedster with a high defensive IQ, there will be several MLB teams that savor Biondi’s unique skillset.

“He brings a super utility value,” Bakich said. “Some teams will place more of an emphasis on a left-handed hitter with speed that plays premium defense and can be an outfielder or an infielder at the major league level.”

Biondi scored 40 runs and stole 19 bases this season, good for second on the team behind O’Neill in both categories. He also broke the Big Ten’s single-season stolen base record when he snatched five against Eastern Michigan on April 17.

And those statistics aren’t as telling as they seem. In fact, those statistics are deflated due to a right thumb injury that sidelined Biondi for nearly three weeks in the middle of the season. Upon returning to the lineup after nursing that thumb, he was still unable to fully swing the bat and was forced to bunt at each trip to the plate for at least a week. And in the final home series of the year against Purdue, Biondi took a pitch to the back in his first at-bat, bruising a lung that caused him to continuously spit up blood when he was sidelined for the rest of the game.

Injury after injury, Biondi still came back and outperformed the majority of his teammates, both mentally and physically. The durability and endurance in Biondi’s toolset makes him coveted by MLB teams, but isn’t something that scouts immediately notice, though.

“The most important tool is his makeup and the intangibles that he has,” Bakich said. “Regardless of where he gets drafted, he is going to will himself to the major-league level. He’s just going to do it.”

Bakich admitted that Biondi was only 100 percent healthy for the first 15 games of the season, but his grit and already-proven talent helped lead Michigan to its first Big Ten Tournament since 2010.

“To see him put the needs of the team ahead of his own, and just be in there to contribute in any positive way possible, that was the most impressive thing,” Bakich said. “That’s a kid, in my opinion, who is extremely mentally tough.”

Even though O’Neill and Biondi will be away from New Jersey this weekend, that doesn’t change the anticipation surrounding a long-awaited phone call. It’s almost a forgone conclusion that the two will be drafted by Saturday, but the waiting game still comes along with reaching a coveted milestone.

“I’ll be in Ann Arbor probably trying to do something to keep my mind off things,” Biondi said. “I know my mom and dad are coming out so I’ll probably just be hanging out with them.”

But even once they get the call, both Biondi and O’Neill have expressed that the feeling will be quite surreal.

“I’ve thought about it, but I’m not really sure how I’ll take it,” O’Neill said. “It’s an exciting time in my life so I’ll be with my family.”

O’Neill and Biondi knew this day would come. The waiting game will end by Saturday, but the pair will most likely learn where their headed much sooner than that.

And at age 21, O’Neill and Biondi will realize they’ve dreamt reality.