Royals prospect Ryan O’Hearn is mashing the ball for High A Wilmington, slamming seven home runs to go with an impressive .387/.434/.760 triple slash in 19 games.
The 22-year-old first baseman is currently ranked the no. 13 prospect in the KC Royals system by MLB Pipeline. O’Hearn joined the Kansas City Royals organization after the team selected him in the eighth round of the 2014 draft from Sam Houston State. His seven home runs put him in a tie for the minor-league home run lead.
Along with his power and high batting average, O’Hearn is showing solid plate discipline by drawing six walks in 81 plate appearances. However, he still is plagued by a high strikeout rate of 25.3%—which is down from 29.8% last season.
What’s particularly impressive is the lefty swinging O’Hearn is crushing what many KC Royals position-player prospects find to be an unusually challenging level. Wilmington’s home park has a notoriously difficult hitting background.
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Even outstanding Kansas City Royals prospects have struggled at Wilmington. 1999 Rookie-Of-The-Year Carlos Beltran hit a mere .229/.311/.363 in 1997 as a 20-year-old in his first crack at High A. Mike Moustakas slashed .250/.297/.421 at Wilmington as a 20-year-old. Moose’s .718 OPS that season was the low point in his minor-league career. Eric Hosmer hit .206/280/.299 in his first taste of High A, but he was only 19.
Though O’Hearn is 22 and should be a more polished hitter than the above players, his dominance this season in a difficult environment is a good sign. Last year, Bubba Starling‘s .386/.471/.614 showing in 44 at bats earned him a quick promotion to AA NW Arkansas.
Fangraphs.com analyst Dan Farnsworth rated him the fifth best prospect in the KC Royals system before the 2016 season began, but considers his biggest problem is a stubborn approach at the plate:
"Right now, the problem is he seems to know he’s a power hitter. His eyes light up when he gets that pitch down the middle, and he tries to do too much with it, muscling up and pulling off the ball. His swing is geared toward driving fly balls out to all fields, and he has the strength to support a potential plus-plus power tool in the future……He’s stubborn, in that he thinks he can hit everything the pitcher can throw, sometimes trying to go after a guy’s best pitch rather than waiting for something easier to drive. The Royals are working with him to channel that stubbornness into a good two-strike approach."
Ryan O’Hearn’s strong first month means he could be on the move in the Kansas City Royals system. Expect to see him in AA NW Arkansas soon.