To say that Ryan O’Hearn has been struggling in Kansas City this season would be an understatement. Remember July 31, 2018 when he was called up to make is MLB debut? In his second MLB at bat, O’Hearn hit his first home run, and didn’t seem to slow down the rest of the season. He put up some near historic numbers in those two months, and therefore faced high expectations going into the 2019 season. In just 44 games in 2018, he had 39 hits (including 24 extra base hits) and 12 home runs with a slash line of .262/.353/.597. So far in 2019, he has played in 12 more games (total of 56 at the time of this post) and has fewer hits (35) and of those only 14 are extra base hits. He’s hit half as many home runs (6) with a meager slash line of .188/.286/.333.
On June 14, O’Hearn was sent down to AAA Omaha to hit the reset button. He was working hard to get out of his season long slump, but was getting frustrated with his struggles. He needed to get some consistent at bats in a lineup, and with the various call ups and changes, that was not happening with the Royals. The reset button looks like it has worked, at least at the AAA level. In just a little over a month in Omaha, Ryan has put on a show while getting off to a hot start. In his first AAA game, he went 3 for 5 with two doubles and two RBI’s. He hit his first home run in his fifth game, going 1 for 4 with three RBI’s. Over a 13-game stretch from June 30 to July 17, he had a 10-game hit streak, and got hits in 12 of the 13 games. The one game he did not get a hit in was on July 15, when he was called in to pinch hit and flied out to left center. During that hit streak, he raised his batting average from .232 to .290 and his OBP from .328 to .374. Through Thursday, July 18, Ryan has played in 28 games for Omaha, piling up 29 hits (including eight doubles) and 8 home runs while scoring 17 times. During the stretch, he’s had two multi-homer games, driving in three runs in each. He has a respectable slash line of .279/.367/.587, and is showing more confidence in his abilities.
One thing holding O’Hearn back from returning to Kansas City is Cheslor Cuthbert playing first base for the Royals. Cuthbert breathes some fresh air into the Royals lineup, and has been responsible for more hits than any Royal other than Merrifield during his timeframe with Kansas City. He has added some power and versatility to his repertoire by playing both first base and third base. While Cuthbert is receiving regular playing time at first base and Lucas Duda continues to play a backup role, Ryan may be stuck in Omaha for a while longer than he anticipated.
The other problem that may hold him back from returning to the majors is his sudden mysterious inability to hit left-handed pitchers. His batting average and OBP are .059/.200 respectively against southpaws. He is tearing apart right-handed pitchers, however, with a batting average and OBP of .322/.400. It’s a mystery why left-handed hitters have plagued him so much since he got called up almost a year ago. Before making his MLB debut, O’Hearn had no problem hitting lefties. During his 2018 AAA season, his slash line was .271/.370/.471 versus left handed pitching.
All things considered, O’Hearn is still a very valuable piece to the Royals. His chemistry with Hunter Dozier takes us back to the days when Hosmer and Moustakas were manning the corners. Last year, Dozier was the one struggling mightily, but when O’Hearn was called up, Dozier started to turn his season around. He maintained his momentum into this season, and has been one of the most valuable Royals players. It even culminated in becoming a top 3 first baseman in the American League in All Star voting. Can the same thing happen to O’Hearn? Sure, it can. He is still young, and it certainly can take a few years of back-and-forth for players to excel in the big leagues. Nick Pratto is looming in the background of the Royals’ organization as of now, and assuming he develops successfully is expected to be the Royals’ future starting first baseman, but that is still a few years away. Until then, Ryan is the Royals’ first baseman. It is his job to lock up or lose. Looking at the progress Ryan has made in his short stay in AAA, though, the Royals are bound to give him another shot, even if that shot might just be as a September call up.
Photo Credits: Ron Schwane – Getty Images