Kings of Kauffman recently chatted with Kansas City Royals first baseman Ryan O’Hearn. Below are some questions and answers from our interview!
As the Kansas City Royals attempt to rebuild retool after several disappointing seasons in a row, the development of young players is going to be as critical as ever. With many expecting a return to competitive baseball as soon as 2021 or 2022, time is ticking.
First baseman Ryan O’Hearn was selected in the eighth round of the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft by the Royals. In 2018, his rookie season, the lefty hit for a .262/.353/.597 line with 12 home runs in just 44 games. His production was phenomenal, albeit the same size was small.
2019 was a humbling season for the infielder. In 105 games, O’Hearn’s batting average fell all the way down below .200. Posting a .195/.281/.369 line and raising his home run total to just 14, it wasn’t the campaign many had hoped for — including O’Hearn.
Heading into 2020, it’s make-or-break time for the 26-year-old. With a refreshed perspective and the support of the organization behind him, O’Hearn has been identified as a bounce-back candidate for next year. We recently had the chance to ask Ryan a few questions. His answers are below.
Q: Ever since the series finale in Cleveland where you hit two home runs, you seemed to play much better down the stretch. 0.297 batting average from August 25-September 29. Was there something about that particular game that seemed to click?
A: The series finale in Cleveland in my mind was definitely a turning point. I had been hitting the ball hard and having quality at-bats leading up to that game. However, most of the balls I was hitting went right into the shift. There were some swing changes that took place in August, nothing major, but mainly working on my direction.
If I’m consistently trying to stay left-center gap, then I will pull the ball the right way when I’m supposed to. There were periods when I got so frustrated with hitting the ball in the shift I subconsciously just tried to hit through it. And would constantly be frustrated, that part of the season is when I learned that just trying to hit the ball harder wasn’t the answer.
Q: You saw the Royals sign Ryan McBroom at the end of August as well. Did his signing, for lack of a better word, push you to play better?
A: McBroom was a really good addition to the team at the end of the year. He always has quality at-bats, he’s a polished hitter and has the ability to hit for power. Anytime your team signs a guy that plays your position, it gets your attention. But in no way did it push me to play better, I’ve never had a problem with motivation. Nobody wanted me to play better this year than me… and I think that maybe was part of the problem. Taking a million swings everyday and watching hours and hours of video constantly didn’t do me any good.
"“I had to lean on Terry [Bradshaw] and Pedro [Grifol] a lot, they helped me to understand how to work smarter not necessarily harder.”"
Q: Last offseason, you decided to play in the Dominican Winter League. What was your biggest takeaway from your time down there besides the weather?
A: Baseball in the Dominican Republic is something that I think every player should see. The passion that those people have for baseball is incredible, and I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of the games over there. Aside from the atmosphere, it’s a tough league. There are guys anywhere from A-ball to major league All-Stars on the field. There are 20 guys available in each bullpen a night. Pace of play isn’t a concern, that’s for sure. (Lol) Without a doubt an experience I won’t forget.
Q: Right now, it looks like both you and McBroom will be on the roster to start the season. Do you think a platoon situation at first base is something you’d be open to and do you think the competition is good for your development?
A: Coming up through the system, I’ve seen a lot of really good players come and go. In this business, life can come at you really fast, and one bad season hurts a lot. Especially on a team that’s trying to put together the people they want to be a part of their future. With that being said, my mentality this offseason and going into spring training is to compete my butt off to 1: Make the team and 2: Show Dayton, the front office and the coaching staff that I’m part of the Kansas City Royals’ future.
If that means platooning with “Broomy,” then that’s fine with me. Obviously I want to be an everyday guy, and I know I can handle left-handed pitching. I’m tired of that being a thing without a doubt. But whatever I’m asked to do, I will put my whole heart into it!
Q: What has it been like this season to watch what Jorge Soler has been doing, especially in the second half?
A: Jorge Soler is a special talent. Watching him this season was impressive, to say the least. Obviously he is extremely strong and has stupid power but on top of that, the way he knows the strike zone is something I admire. Also, the way he was able to produce when the other team was desperately trying to not get beat by him. He’s a hard worker and a great guy, really proud to be his teammate and witness his historic season.
Q: If Alex Gordon retires, what will you miss most about him?
A: All season long I was trying to plant seeds in Gordo’s mind about coming back next season. But ultimately, that’s something he has to decide with his family. If he does decide to retire, he will forever be one of my favorite teammates and the guy in the clubhouse who I’ve looked up to the most. The way he goes about his work, the consistency of his workouts and how he prepares for games in my mind is the benchmark for what it takes to play that long and have the kind of career that he’s had. It’s been an honor to share a locker room with him and I really hope he comes back next year.
Q: What are your plans for this offseason to keep developing your game?
A: This offseason, I’m going to focus on becoming more athletic. Staying strong and explosive but at the same time becoming more agile. I really want to run better. These are things I’ve talked about with Ryan Stoneberg, our strength coach, and created a plan. On the baseball side, I’m going to continue to get better defensively, I think I made strides this year on defense but I know I can continue to improve. As far as hitting goes, I want to master what I was doing the last month and a half of the season.
Terry and Pedro helped me form a plan for the winter. One main thing is to understand my swing and the mentality in the box I need to have to be successful. Thinking about driving the ball to left-center is a strength I have that I need to get back to doing it consistently. Keeping the ball off the ground especially pull-side, and just hitting line drives all over the field. One thing I’ve learned at the major league level is that the simpler your swing, the better off you’ll be.
I’ll be working with Doz (Hunter Dozier) again like always, we talked about doing a lot of high-velocity work off a machine, as well as spin from lefties and righties. On top of that, I want to stand in for bullpens and see more live arms as we get closer to spring.
Q: You’ve shown the ability to hit given enough at-bats at each level. Do you think this past season had to do more with bad luck than anything? (0.230 BABIP when on average, it’s been much higher than that).
A: This season was rough for me. I’m not satisfied with the way I played and I wish I could’ve done some things differently. I need to stay away from hitting into the shift, no doubt about that. But I’m not going to sit here and say I just got unlucky in 2019. I’m better than how I played and I take full responsibility for my performance last season. With that being said, this isn’t the first time I’ve faced adversity. I know without a doubt I can help the Royals win baseball games. I love this team and organization. More than anything, I want to be part of the future and win as a Royal. That is my motivation.