Ryan O’Hearn won the KC Royals’ first base job with a good 2018 season, but a 2019 downturn put the position back in play. If spring momentum shifts away from him, he may be headed to the bench.
From his first days in the minor leagues, his power alone suggested Ryan O’Hearn would make it to the majors. Beginning with a partial Rookie ball season after he signed with the KC Royals in 2014 and progressing through his partial Triple-A season in 2018, O’Hearn hit 13, 27, 22, 22 and 11 home runs to average almost 20 per campaign. That consistent power propelled him to the majors midway through 2018.
O’Hearn played well and stepped into the first base job left woefully vacant by Eric Hosmer. His 12 home runs, 30 RBIs and .262 average in 44 games were sufficient to earn the job for 2019.
What was to be his first full big league season became all but a disaster for O’Hearn–he did manage 14 homers, but weak hitting forced the Royals to demote him to Omaha; although he seemed to recover his stroke there and returned to KC, he ended the season at .195 with a dismal 70 OPS+.
That O’Hearn’s offensive decline revived concerns about first base became settled when the Royals purchased first baseman-outfielder Ryan McBroom from the Yankees in late August. McBroom hit .293 in 23 games for KC; O’Hearn hit four homers and batted .250 the rest of the way to further muddle the picture.
The March 12 suspension of baseball likely left the inevitable O’Hearn vs. McBroom spring training competition for first base unresolved–O’Hearn’s five home runs were better by two than McBroom’s homers, O’Hearn had one more RBI, and O’Hearn hit .343 to McBroom’s .314, a misleading margin considering each had the same number of at-bats and McBroom had only one less hit than O’Hearn.
So momentum, which O’Hearn and McBroom both had when games stopped, favors neither. If there’s an edge, it’s probably with O’Hearn considering he’s the incumbent, manager Mike Matheny was impressed with him even before spring training began and McBroom is, as mentioned previously in this space, a lock to make the club as a utility player.
But just because McBroom will make the roster, in any event, doesn’t mean O’Hearn’s first base job is safe. His spring momentum is important and encouraging, but his second-season slump lasted the entire 2019 campaign, a blight that a good but abbreviated spring training won’t remove. If O’Hearn’s momentum changes when the games resume, McBroom will be around.