Royals: Positional battle, can Ryan O’Hearn reclaim first base?
The Kansas City Royals will have some decisions to make for the 2020 season, as there will be some positional battles starting along with spring training.
Baseball is officially over for the 2019 season, and the Kansas City Royals will have to start gearing up for the free agency, winter meetings, and spring training. There is still some time before players will report to Arizona, but it’s likely the time will fly by.
Once spring training arrives, fans will get to see their favorite players and other familiar faces prepare for the 2020 season, and there will undoubtedly be some new faces among the crowd as well. Another thing fans will get to see in spring training are the positional battles that are bound to take place.
The Royals have a lot of position players right now and fans may see a bit of a shakeup around the field. Some players may be in new spots, while others may find themselves benched as backups. Either way, there are some positions that will certainly have players pushing to put up their best numbers in spring training.
For this piece, the focus will be on first base. The Royals have a few options for first base, but at the moment the position is very much up in the air. There is always the chance the team could look to the free agency to find someone to fill the spot as well.
First base belonged to Ryan O’Hearn at the end of the 2018 season. He took Royals fans for a ride as he cranked out 12 home runs and 30 RBIs over the 44 games he played at the end of the season. Unfortunately, O’Hearn got off to a slow start in 2019.
The home run hitting rookie could no longer hit, and the Royals wasted no time trying out other options. While the other options weren’t really any better, the Royals did what they could to fill first base, with O’Hearn seeing some time, but not as much as he’d like.
Midseason, O’Hearn go the news that he would be spending some time in the minors. While it’s not what players like to hear, it may have worked for O’Hearn. After his stint in the minors, he continued to struggle for a short time but started to show a positive trend in his numbers in the last two months of the season.
O’Hearn is a decent fielder and could be the full-time first baseman for the Royals. With his 2019 slash of .195/.281/.369, though, he is definitely not locked in. He did manage to hit 14 home runs and knock in 38 RBI’s on his poor batting average, so come spring training, if he continues his progress he may be able to secure the full-time first base job.
Ryan McBroom spent a short amount of time with the Royals in 2019, but he provided the team with a good look at his abilities. He could be a candidate for multiple roles in the organization, but as he has played first base primarily throughout his time in the minors, this should be the first place to try and fit him in.
With Kansas City, McBroom saw time in all three outfield positions plus time at first base. Since he only played in 23 games, this doesn’t provide a great sample of his defense in each position. Even so, his fielding percentage among all positions in 2019 was 1.000. Of course, the team needs a much longer look, but he carried a similar defensive ability throughout the minors, instilling some confidence in his defense.
As far as his offense goes, in 23 games across 83 plate appearances, McBroom slashed .293/.361/.360 with 22 hits, 5 doubles, and 6 RBIs. This looks pretty good for player fresh out of the minors, but of course, we saw a similar story with O’Hearn.
If McBroom continues to put up these numbers in 2020, he will have a spot on the team. It may or may not be at first base, but right now, he is a front runner for the corner office.
Cheslor Cuthbert managed to increase pretty much every offensive stat between his 2018 and 2019 seasons. Unfortunately for him, it’s likely not enough for him to lock down the starting role at first base with the two mentioned above also in the running.
Stranger things have happened, though. His slash of .246/.294/.379 doesn’t look terrible when set next to Ryan O’Hearns, but going against Cuthbert is his history of below-average offensive production.
Another downside that the Royals take very seriously is the lack of defensive ability Cuthbert brings to the field. In 5 major league seasons, his fielding percentage is a .961, definitely not at the Royals standard of high caliber defense. If he could smash 35 plus homers in a season, it may be a different story, but unfortunately, he cannot.
Cuthbert has been roaming around the Royals system since 2010, starting in the minors, and seeing major league time every season since 2015. While he has good moments, Cuthbert has never left his mark to remain a full-time player with the team.
Free Agent Signing
There are some possibilities out there, but as most of them are older, or not well established, it is likely better for the Royals to go with internal candidates. spotrac.com does list Kila Ka’aihue as a free agent first baseman for any Royals fan looking for a former Royal. It’s probably best not to walk down that road.
When spring training finally rolls around, the first base position will more than likely be a battle between O’Hearn and McBroom. There, of course, is always the chance that Lucas Duda will find his way to the Royals dugout again, but fans can only hope those days are over.
With O’Hearns numbers trending in the right direction at the end of 2019, he may have a slight edge over McBroom. O’Hearn has seen more major league time at first, and unlike McBroom, he doesn’t have a lot of ability to move around the field.
McBroom will show up in the outfield battles as well, possibly in left field in Alex Gordon doesn’t return or in right, which also saw a lot of rotation last year. No matter the decision, the Royal must ensure they address first base in the spring, as it was one of their weakest played positions, offensively/defensively, during 2019.
The Royal’s main focus during the offseason should be on the pitching staff and ensuring the team has pitchers to keep them in the game. These positional battles will be important, though, as the Royals progressed in their offensive game in 2019 and will want to continue that in 2020.