BINGHAMTON – Scoring is down all around baseball, but New York Yankees prospect Peter O'Brien has certainly done his part to generate runs.
O'Brien, a right-handed hitter who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 225 pounds, led all Yankees minor-league players in home runs (22) and runs batted in (96) while batting .291 and scoring 78 runs last season.
For an encore, O'Brien belted 29 home runs through his first 88 games this season to solidify himself as one of if not the top power-hitting prospect in the minors. And there is still a month a half left in the minor-league season.
O'Brien hit 19 of those home runs for the Trenton Thunder, who wrap up their only series at NYSEG Stadium against the Binghamton Mets on Sunday afternoon.
"Pete has a tool that you can't teach, and that's power," said Thunder hitting coach Marcus Thames, who played 10 seasons in the major leagues. "Last year, he hit (22) and that was his first full season. His power is going to play. The thing is going to be consistency."
O'Brien, who turned 24 on Tuesday, entered the four-game series against the B-Mets having just played in the Eastern League's All-Star Game on Wednesday night in Altoona, Pa., as well as the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Minneapolis, Minn., on Sunday.
O'Brien may have flown under some radars after last year, but that certainly appears to be a thing of the past. In just 30 games in the Florida State League this season, he crushed 10 home runs and got promoted to Double-A Trenton.
A second-round pick of the Yankees in 2012 out of the University of Miami, O'Brien has already reached Double-A in an organization criticized for struggling to produce all-star caliber talent in recent years.
"I think he's just beginning," Thunder manager Tony Franklin said of O'Brien. "I think he's just finding out exactly what this power surge is all about himself. He is still young in his career. I think it's just the beginning of what we hope to see or what might be."
O'Brien is the son of a former Cuban ballerina, Mercedes O'Brien, and a former college baseball player, Terry O'Brien. Terry, a pitcher, led Western Michigan in earned-run average (3.51) in 1977.
O'Brien grew up with baseball in his blood and says it is the only sport he played growing up. A native of Miami, O'Brien was actually a top of the lineup hitter until his junior year in high school.
"I was probably 5-foot-4 125 pounds my freshman year in high school," O'Brien said while wrapping tape around the end of new shiny black bat, his latest weapon of choice.
A growth spurt jumped O'Brien up to 6-foot-2 195 going into his junior year, and he started making weightlifting a part of his daily routine, sometimes two or three workouts a day between the gym, the pool, and running.
He went on to play three seasons at Bethune-Cookman University in Dayton Beach where he was an All-American catcher and earned Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore.
The Colorado Rockies drafted O'Brien in 2011, but he did not sign and played his final college season at Miami where he was a co-captain, a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, and led the team in batting average (.340), home runs (10), RBIs (40), on-base percentage (.441) and slugging percentage (.626) despite missing the last 17 games of the season with a broken wrist.
O'Brien spent time in both the Gulf Coast League and the New York-Penn League in the summer of 2012, and last season he split time between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa.
"I think the biggest thing is in pro ball you get so many reps, and you get to know yourself better as a hitter," O'Brien said. "You get to work on those strengths and make those weaknesses stronger."
The most-important thing O'Brien learned about himself was that the long meat-grinder of a season in professional baseball required him to guard against getting too intense.
"I think that's something I've learned over the last couple of years is sometimes less is more," O'Brien said. "I don't have to swing at 100 percent or hit the ball perfect to hit it out. I've just got to put a good swing on a good pitch.
"I think that's the biggest thing I tell myself now is just not to try to do too much. That's something guys have always told me growing up. Especially in my later years in college, kind of have fun and let myself play more. I think I never understood that until I started getting these reps in pro ball."
Thames says O'Brien is constantly asking questions, always thinking about and talking about baseball, trying to get to the next level.
O'Brien isn't a finished product yet. His average has dropped since he started facing Double-A pitching. He batted .321 in the Florida State League, and he went into Saturday night's game batting .229 against Eastern League pitchers.
"Hopefully he can become a better hitter as well, and put that hitting ability with that power ability and then you're talking about major-league all-star," Franklin said.
O'Brien has always been an aggressive hitter, and that has led to 62 strikeouts through his first 60 games with Trenton. He has walked just 12 times, but that last thing Thames wants to do is make O'Brien hesitant in the batter's box.
"You can't go up there being timid," Thames said. "I saw an article that Jim Thome wrote. He never went up there looking to walk. I played with Gary Sheffield. He never went up there looking to walk. They went up there to swing the bat, but they swung at pitches they could hit."
The Yankees still have not settled on a position for O'Brien. He played catcher throughout his college career, but he has caught and also logged time at third base, first base, and the outfield in the minors.
Franklin says O'Brien, who caught Friday night's win against the B-Mets, works well with the pitching staff and would probably get the chance to catch four days per week if not for the presence of one of baseball's top catching prospects, Gary Sanchez, on the same roster.
O'Brien's offense and that powerful swing will be what opens the doors to the big leagues. The way the way the ball jumps off O'Brien's bat is noticeable. It gets up so fast and with what seems like minimal movement from O'Brien. It sounds as if a small explosion took place.
"His bats just make a different sound," Thames said. "For me and my experience playing at the major-league level, he's up there with the big guys that have the raw power. He has really true raw power that can play in the game.
"He doesn't try to hit for power. He doesn't try to go out in (batting practice) and try to launch every single ball. He's still learning how to hit. It's going to even get better once he figures everything out, figures out what the pitchers are trying to do to him."