Roller Coaster Year for Michael O'Connor

O'Connor Is Hoping To Start 2006 in AA

Left-handed pitcher Michael O'Connor had one heck of a roller coaster ride this season with the Potomac Nationals. After beginning the year with a 1-7 mark, he bounced back to finish with a 10-11 record and being named the Nationals 2005 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, which came as a shock to O'Connor. But it wasn't the only surprise this past season.

Drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 7th round of the 2002 MLB Draft out of George Washington University, O'Connor completed his third minor league season in 2004 with a very solid campaign with the Brevard County Manatees of the Florida State League, going 8-8 with a 4.11 ERA with 104 strikeouts in 103 innings pitched.

It was the culmination of a steady rise through the now Nationals' organization after beginning his career with the Vermont Expos back in 2002 in the NY-Penn League before beginning his first full year of professional baseball with the Savannah Sand Gnats in 2003.

Despite not possessing electric stuff, topping out at 89 MPH with his fastball, O'Connor still headed into Spring Training this past season with 253 career strikeouts in just 216 innings. Seemingly ticketed to AA-Harrisburg, a monkey wrench was thrown into his progress as he found out he would be repeating the high-A level again.

"I was disappointed coming out of Spring Training," O'Connor told CapitolDugout.com in a recent interview. "I kind of expected to go to AA this year. I mean, I had started a new level every year until this season and this was the first year I repeated a level."

Whether or not his disappointment had any negative effect on his slow start with the Potomac Nationals remains unknown, but going 1-7 with a 5.02 ERA in his first ten starts wasn't like the same pitcher that entered the year with a career 18-14 record. Instead of letting his slow start snowball, O'Connor set forth some new goals.

"My goal at the halfway point was to finish the season at .500, and even though I went 10-11, I think I exceeded my expectations considering my slow start," said O'Connor.

He finished the season going 10-4 with a 2.77 ERA in his final 16 starts before being named the 2005 Nationals Minor League Pitcher of the Year, an honor that shocked O'Connor.

"I was surprised to get it [the award]," a humble O'Connor revealed. "My parents were more excited about it than I was. It was a big deal to them. I mean, I think I had a very successful year when you look back at my 1-7 start. But I haven't reached my goal yet, which is to pitch in the Major Leagues."

So why the sudden turnaround?

"I think it was just a comfort factor," O'Connor told us. "I started getting some success and then I gained a lot more confidence. The pitching coach and the pitching coordinator forced me to throw my curveball a lot more this year and it got a lot better."

While some scouts have compared him to Jamie Moyer of the Seattle Mariners, O'Connor likens himself to Tom Glavine of the New York Mets or Bruce Chen of the Baltimore Orioles.

Possessing a fastball that sits in the 86-89 MPH range with a good curveball (75-76 MPH), a good changeup (72 MPH), and a developing slider (80 MPH), O'Connor simply gets batters out with intelligence and guile.

"I'm not a hard thrower," the lanky left-hander explained on how he's able to strike so many batters out. "I try to mix my pitches at all times and keep the hitters off-balance."

O'Connor trusts in his repertoire and his ability to locate pitches, strengths of his that prove it isn't always the pitcher with the quickest fastball that has all of the success.

"I think my biggest strength is being able to throw any pitch in any count," O'Connor said. "I think I finished strong this year because I had a better mix of pitches."

With the roller coaster year of 2005 behind him, one in which he's able to put another award on his mantle, O'Connor is already thinking about next season.

"I want to work on my slider," revealing his plans to prepare for 2006. "I have been throwing it since Spring Training and I had more success with it at the end of the year. It became my out pitch against lefties."

With two successful years of high-A ball under his belt, O'Connor has proven himself ready to make the leap to AA in 2006 and he realizes that from AA, the Major Leagues are not far off.

"I'm hoping to start next year in AA," O'Connor reflected. "This was the first year I hadn't moved up and I'd rather not do that again. But I'll play as long as I can and see what happens."

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