First base has been an unsettled position for the KC Royals since Eric Hosmer departed after 2017. The club hoped Ryan O’Hearn would fit the first base bill in 2019. Instead, he had a poor season and the position remains uncertain.
Lucas Duda, acquired by the Royals for the 2018 season (and inexplicably reacquired for 2019) wasn’t the solution to the gaping hole Eric Hosmer left at first base when he chose San Diego over Kansas City after the 2017 season. The position has remained in flux for two seasons, with Duda and others trying but failing to make it their own. At his best, however, Ryan O’Hearn is a player the Royals would like to see stake and hold a claim to first.
Although his defense needs work, O’Hearn has power, a helpful tool for aspiring first basemen. He hit 13 home runs in 64 Rookie League games after the Royals selected him in the eighth round of the 2014 draft. Power followed him as he progressed through the minors: he hit 27 homers in 2015, his first full professional season, then 22 in each of the next two campaigns. He had 11 in 100 games at AAA Omaha in 2018 before the Royals promoted him to the majors.
O’Hearn made the best of his 44-game big league audition–he homered in his first game, then added 11 more to complement 10 doubles, 30 RBI’s, a 262/.353/.597 slash and a 154 OPS+. Although KC re-signed Duda, it seemed O’Hearn was the team’s first choice at first for 2019.
But O’Hearn’s bat all but abandoned him in 2019. Their hands forced by his disastrous .188 batting average, the Royals sent him back to Omaha on June 14; his .295/.383/.597 slash and nine home runs in 35 AAA games punched his ticket back to Kansas City, where he slumped again and finished the season with a .195 average. (His 14 homers in 105 games with KC were the only bright spot in what was perhaps the most disappointing season of any Royals’ player).
That the Royals haven’t acquired a first baseman this offseason suggests O’Hearn will have another shot there in 2020. But the acquisition of Ryan McBroom late last season reflects the club’s concerns with O’Hearn; if his disappointing 2019 performance bleeds into next season, O’Hearn may not be the Ryan manning first base.
The KC Royals’ second straight 100-plus loss season can’t be blamed entirely on the disappointing 2019 seasons of Jorge Lopez, Brad Keller and Ryan O’Hearn. But rebounding from those discouraging campaigns could help Kansas City avoid another disastrous season and move the club closer to future contention.