KC Royals: Four players facing make or break seasons in 2020

SURPRISE, AZ - FEBRUARY 26: Starting pitcher Kyle Zimmer #45 of the Kansas City Royals throws a pitch against the Texas Rangers during the first inning of the spring training game at Surprise Stadium on February 26, 2017 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
SURPRISE, AZ - FEBRUARY 26: Starting pitcher Kyle Zimmer #45 of the Kansas City Royals throws a pitch against the Texas Rangers during the first inning of the spring training game at Surprise Stadium on February 26, 2017 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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Kansas City Royals, Ryan O'Hearn
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

In 2018 Ryan O’Hearn played 44 games like he was an All-Star. In 2019 he played 105 games like a player destined to spend his career in AAA.

I do not want to diminish how good Ryan O’Hearn looked in 2018. After 100 games of AAA ball where he hit to an OPS barely over .700, there were not many clamoring for his call-up to Kansas City. However, he arrived in town hitting everything thrown his way.

O’Hearn maintained a 12 percent walk rate in 2018. His soft hit percentage was less than 13 percent. His batting average was over .260 and he got on base in more than 35 percent of his plate appearances. He was taking his walks and mashing fastballs, great signs for a young power hitter.

Ryan had not shown a Slugging Percentage over .500 since rookie ball. But in 2018 he slugged almost .600 for the Royals. He had 39 hits and 24 of them were for extra bases. For more than a quarter of a season, he was an otherworldly hitter.

In 2019 he would come crashing back to Earth. His batting average fell below .200. His groundball percentage jumped 12 points. His Slugging Percentage fell all the way down to .369. He was still hitting the ball hard, but too many were into the ground or into the shift.

There are good reasons to give Ryan O’Hearn another shot to prove himself. He has shown signs of being able to kill mistakes, which is necessary for a big league slugger. And, even when he was struggling in 2019, his walk percentage was still over 10 percent. His strikeout rate, while a bit high, was an identical 26 percent for both seasons. His hard-hit percentage was a promising 42 percent for both seasons. When O’Hearn connects he still hits the ball hard.

A 26-year-old left-handed hitter that has shown true major league power and can get on base is someone who deserves another chance. Maybe he can become more adept at using the opposite field and more productive hitting against a shift. Maybe he can have more luck on his hard-hit outs. Maybe he can hit fewer balls into the ground.

Most importantly, we really have no one behind him in the minors hitting their way into his job. But that will not always be the case. O’Hearn needs to get back to crushing baseballs this season if he wants to be on the big league club in 2021.

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