While he struggled most of the 2019 season, the KC Royals first baseman ended the year on a tear and it has continued into spring training.
Normally a .195/.281/.369 slash the previous year would not lead you to believe a player was improving. Especially since it was a drop from the season before by .300 points in OPS and an 84 point decline in OPS+. The KC Royals even made a late-season pickup of another player who would seem to receive a shot to earn playing time at first.
When you look at the September numbers, however, you see that Ryan O’Hearn batted .250, clubbed four home runs and produced a slugging percentage of .536. O’Hearn credits a change in diet and being in a better mental state with his end of year turnaround. An offseason meeting with new skipper Mike Matheny and teammate Hunter Dozier gave O’Hearn the confidence that the team was behind him 100 percent.
Fast forward to spring training and O’Hearn has been on fire. After the game on March 10th, where he clubbed his fifth blast in Arizona, he is batting .343 while also nailing three doubles and producing an OPS of 1.252.
To make things interesting his competition for playing time at first, Ryan McBroom, is also tearing up this spring batting .314 with 3 homers. Also in the mix will be Salvador Perez who will most likely get days off from catching and playing first base. A good solution would be to sit O’Hearn against tough lefties and have Perez or McBroom spell him.
There are a couple of weeks left in spring training and who ultimately wins the job will be a closely watched race. It is possible that a platoon will be utilized but that would make it difficult for O’Hearn in a rhythm not seeing live batting on a regular basis.
At 26 years old, the bulk of playing time at first should be O’Hearn’s to lose this season. He has proven he can be successful at the plate in the big leagues and last September and this spring shows he is dedicated to shaking off the criticism.