Just two years after back-to-back World Series appearances and their first championship since 1985, the Kansas City Royals need to rebuild. The Royals nearly made the playoffs in 2017, but went just 25-33 after the month of July and missed the postseason for the second straight year. They now face losing 3-4 of their best players in free agency with Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Mike Minor either signed with other teams or expecting big paydays. As of now, the 2018 Royals will being opening the season with a lineup, rotation, and bullpen littered with some players that the casual baseball fan has probably never even heard of. However, despite a farm system that ranks as one of the worst in baseball, the Royals have some prospects that could step in and make an impact quickly, including power hitting first baseman (and outfielder) Ryan O’Hearn.
O’Hearn was drafted out of Sam Houston State in 2014 after hitting just 18 home runs in his 3 years on the team. But since being drafted, O’Hearn has used the natural leverage in his swing to better tap into his best tool, his raw power. “I didn’t always hit for power when I was younger,” O’Hearn told Six Man Rotation. “In college, I was more of a gap to gap guy. I always focused on being able to hit line drives to all fields. So I think as I got older and into the Minor Leagues, I just got stronger and the home runs and doubles happened more.”
“The mindset was a little different in college because of the coaching. The home run wasn’t a huge part of my game or how we won games. When I got to the Royals organization, it was completely different. They wanted me to turn it loose.” Turn it loose is exactly what O’Hearn has done. Since being drafted he’s racked up over 80 home runs and nearly 100 doubles during his time in the minors. Perhaps the most impressive part of O’Hearn’s power is how he spreads the ball around to all fields. Below is O’Hearn’s spray chart from 2017.
It’s a real good looking spray chart. 13 of his 22 home runs from this past season went to left field while 5 went to dead center. Just 4 went out pull side, an area where a lot of power hitters make their living. But O’Hearn doesn’t approach an at-bat that way. “I think I’m at my best when I’m driving the ball to left center,” he said. “That’s something that’s a strength for me. There is nothing wrong with pull side homeruns, but I think it gives me an advantage to be able to hit for power to the opposite field. It’s kind of always been part of my game, I definitely work on it and in the game try to hit the ball where it’s pitched.”
Like all guys trying to make it to the bigs, however, O’Hearn’s road has been a bumpy one, with the most notable obstacle coming in the middle of August last season, when he was demoted from AAA Omaha to AA Northwest Arkansas mid year.
“In August, there were a lot of guys coming off of the DL and they were gonna need at bats in Omaha. We knew there was gonna be a move coming, but I never thought it would be me. Our assistant GM J.J. Picollo came into town and called me into the office. He basically gave me the option of staying there for the last two weeks and getting less at bats or going to AA and helping that team who was already going to play in the playoffs. So I took the at bats, and it was tough to get moved down after being with a team and being one of the middle of the order guys all year. I definitely had to swallow my pride. I realized that if this was gonna help me get to the big leagues and benefit me in the long run, then I had to do it and have the best attitude possible.”
But O’Hearn is ready to take over in Kansas City, whether it’s a spot in the outfield, or at 1B, filling the shoes of Eric Hosmer. “I know [starting for the Royals in 2018] is a possibility and it’s definitely a motivator this offseason. But at the same time I try to worry about that as little as possible because it’s out of my control. My goal going into spring training is to make in impact in the big leagues this year. That isn’t going to change and I will continue to do everything in my power this offseason and going into spring training to get there.”
Photo Credit: Bill Mitchell, Baseball America