Every year there are a couple players in each team’s minor league system that fans will beg to be called up in September due to their performances on the farm. It doesn’t matter what obstacles are in the way, fans want to see “that guy” and they want to see him called up “now.”
For the Kansas City Royals in 2017, Ryan O’Hearn was one of those players. There were plenty of fans that didn’t care who had to get DFA’d in order to make room on the 40-man roster, Ryan O’Hearn needed to be the team’s DH in September.
Those fans made a decent case. In 413 AAA at-bats in 2017 Ryan O’Hearn slashed .252/.325/.450/.776 with 18 HRs and 26 doubles. He posted his lowest strikeout percentage in a season since he was in Low-A in 2015, and started spraying the ball around the field better than any level he’s played in save for one month in High-A (37% of his batted balls were to LF).
O’Hearn ultimately didn’t earn the September call-up that I’m sure even he was hopeful for, but he did have a good enough season to reaffirm his place as a top 20 prospect in this organization.
In his first professional season, O’Hearn hit 13 HR in the Pioneer League with Idaho Falls. In 2015 he hit 27 HRs in A-Ball. In 2016 he hit 22 HRs across High and Double-A. Then this year he hit 22 more HR across Double and Triple-A. The power is there, to be certain, but the concern with Ryan O’Hearn will be his hit tool and his ability to make consistent contact.
O’Hearn had flashed an above average hit tool earlier in his career, but that has faded a bit as he as progressed through the minor leagues. In 2016, O’Hearn hit .352 in 88 at-bats at High-A, and then hit .258 over the rest of the season at Double-A. Albeit a small sample size at High-A, O’Hearn had flashed this kind of potential before when he hit .361 in 64 games in 2014. This year, O’Hearn’s batting average declined again to .252 with Triple-A Omaha.
The batting average only tells part of the story though. The Royals would live with O’Hearn hitting in the .240’s as long as he is hitting for power and getting on base around a .330-.340 clip.
The problem therein lies with O’Hearn’s decrease in OBP over the years as well. O’Hearn’s OBP came down to .325 at Triple-A this season from .339 in Double-A in 2016, which was down from .351 at Low-A in 2015. O’Hearn also posted the 2nd lowest walk rate of his career at any level in 2017 at 9.7%. It’s fair to wonder how well he recognizes pitches and if he will be able to make the adjustment to get his walk rate back up around 13%, where it was at Double-A.
O’Hearn’s power numbers and declining strike out rate suggest that he could have a bright future ahead of him, though. In a recent tweet, Shaun Newkirk of Royals Review ranked O’Hearn as his number 3 prospect in the Royals organization. That’s quite a bit higher than you’ll see O’Hearn on most lists, so I asked Shaun to share some of his thoughts on O’Hearn with us:
“O’Hearn has hit very well at every level, while being young for a college guy (20 years old when drafted). There is going to be some concern about the strikeouts at the major league level, but, 1) I don’t see them being crazy, and, 2) He accesses enough in-game power to make it work. Also, he has all-fields power that he’s consistently shown, and that’s a great sign of both raw and in-game power. Even though he is a 1B, he’s fairly athletic and not a hulking guy, and there’s a chance he could even move to LF. He’s not going to be Paul Goldschmidt (ignore all the profile similarities – 8th rounder, from Texas, killed the Pioneer League), but there’s a chance for an everyday 1B (which is tough to do with the hitting requirements for a 1B). He was also a former Baseball America HS All-American, so there was some former prestige.”
That’s some pretty high praise for a man who is well versed in baseball analytics. Thanks for sharing with us, Shaun.
So there ya have it. In my opinion, the Royals will flip Brandon Moss at the trade deadline for, probably, a box of baseballs and will proceed to call up O’Hearn to take his place. O’Hearn does some things at the plate that make you go “wow” on a regular basis, but definitely still needs a little fine tuning before he’s ready to take over in the big leagues full time.
Photo Credits: Minda Haas Kuhlmann