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Thoughts on Kansas City Royals rookie Ryan O’Hearn

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MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday we looked at Detroit Tigers outfielder Christin Stewart. In the comments section, Minor League Ball community member TwinPeaks asked a question about a different player:

“. . .could you do one on Ryan O’Hearn? He is a head scratcher, as he seemed to go backwards at AAA this year after doing well in spring training. But since getting called up, he’s been a terror in around 120 PA’s to the tune of 265/359/637 with 10 HR in 117 PA. Obviously, it’s a small sample size, but it’s not like he’s just getting lucky – if anything it’s the reverse – his BABIP is only .279 for example, and he’s 9th in average exit velocity.

So – maybe he was just checked out in Omaha this year after performing well in Spring Training only to have the Royals sign Lucas Duda?”

We aim to please, so here’s a quick update on Ryan O’Hearn of the Kansas City Royals.

A three-year starter at Sam Houston State University, O’Hearn was selected in the eighth round by the Royals in 2014. He was reasonably successful in college, hitting .292/.348/.451 as a junior, but scouts felt he didn’t tap his raw power as often as he could. That changed in pro ball, with 27 homers in A-ball in 2015 (.263/.339/.478) and 22 more bombs in High-A and Double-A in 2016 (.275/.352/.478).

He was more aggressive as a hitter in pro ball, striking out more often than in college but with the different approach boosting his isolated power. This trend continued in 2017 with 22 more homers and a .253/.330/.455 line in the high minors.

O’Hearn ranked 17th on the Kansas City Royals pre-season Top 20 prospects list for 2018 with this comment:

17) Ryan O’Hearn, 1B, Grade C+: Age 24, eighth round pick in 2014 from Sam Houston State University; hit .253/.330/.455 with 22 homers, 55 walks, 139 strikeouts in 479 at-bats in Double-A/Triple-A; a solid enough year but as with Samir Duenez it isn’t huge production for his position plus O’Hearn is older; could be a useful role bat along Clint Robinson lines. ETA 2018.

As TwinPeaks noted in his comment, O’Hearn had a strong spring training this year, hitting .400 with five homers in 35 at-bats, but was sent back to Triple-A in favor of veteran Lucas Duda.

I don’t think O’Hearn “checked out” in reaction to the demotion: he got off to an excellent start at Omaha this year, hitting .311/.393/.459 in April. His production began to tail off in late May and he was in a slump for much of the summer, hitting just .174/.260/.272 in July for example, however the impression I got from the PCL was that he was pressing, trying too hard to impress people. That’s not quite the same as “checking out,” which has a negative connotation.

In any event, since coming up to the majors on July 31st O’Hearn has hit well, .260/.369/.625 with 10 homers, 17 walks, and 33 strikeouts in 104 at-bats. It remains to be seen how he fits onto the roster in 2019 but the first impression is certainly positive.

O’Hearn is 25 years old, a left-handed hitter listed at 6-3, 200. I compared him to Clint Robinson pre-season, a one-time Royals prospect with a similar profile to O’Hearn. Robinson got stuck behind Eric Hosmer, mashing in the high minors for three seasons without getting a shot in KC.

Robinson eventually shook loose and had a couple of seasons as a useful role player with the Washington Nationals but he was already 30 by the time his chance came and he faded pretty quickly.

O’Hearn has the advantage of being younger than Robinson was, getting a chance now at age 25. I think his current .260/.369/.625 slash with the Royals is a little over his head overall but in a full season I think he could hit something along the lines of .250/.330/.460, which would make him similar to Lucas Duda.