KC Royals Projections: Ryan O’Hearn is on shaky ground

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

A once promising member of the KC Royals is no longer a major league roster lock.

For Ryan O’Hearn, 2021 may turn out to be the season that might have been, but never was. Projecting how he’ll perform for the KC Royals is a question answerable only by considering whether he’ll even be with the big club when it breaks spring camp and heads north for Opening Day.

O’Hearn is now two seasons removed from a rookie campaign that made him the favorite to replace Eric Hosmer as Kansas City’s first baseman. Called up from Triple A Omaha on the last day of July 2018, O’Hearn started that evening’s game against the White Sox and homered off former Royal James Shields in his second big league at-bat. He finished the season with 12 homers, 30 RBIs, and a respectable 44-game .262/.353/.597 slash. First base appeared to be his.

O’Hearn, though, lost his way at the plate in 2019 and forfeited any sole entitlement he had to the position. Wallowing below the Mendoza Line at .188, he suddenly found himself back at Omaha in June; although he seemed to rediscover his stroke, the Triple A time didn’t pay off when he returned to Kansas City—although he ended with 14 home runs, his final .195/.281/.369 suggested he wasn’t quite ready for everyday major league play.

O’Hearn and Ryan McBroom began last season expected to battle each other for the first base job. But both failed to prove offensively worthy of the spot—O’Hearn, whose start was delayed three days after a positive COVID-19 test, finished the season with another .195 average and hit only two home runs in 42 games. Hunter Dozier trouble-shot first base for the final month.

Now, the offseason acquisition of free agent Carlos Santana leaves no room at first for O’Hearn. His once secure status with the club is tenuous.

Baseball Reference and FanGraphs projections for O’Hearn’s 2021 season

Baseball Reference and FanGraphs view O’Hearn’s potential 2021 performance through conspicuously different lenses. Baseball Reference predicts a season of mixed results: 16 home runs and 58 RBIs, but a .217 average in 415 plate appearances. FanGraphs’ projection is bleak and foresees O’Hearn playing only 18 games and hitting .226 with three homers.

How will Ryan O’Hearn actually perform for the KC Royals in 2021?

The power O’Hearn can bring to the lineup notwithstanding, the club may not have room for him this season. First base now belongs to Carlos Santana, there are faster backup options to patrol Kauffman Stadium’s spacious and challenging outfield, and 2021 roster rules restore the normal 26-man limit (28 in September) with no restrictions on the number of pitchers teams can carry. The Royals will likely opt for an extra pitcher rather than O’Hearn’s limited utility.

The likelihood of O’Hearn playing a full, or any, season for Kansas City in 2021 is low. If he does find a spot with the club at some point, it will be on the bench unless Santana suffers an injury and Dozier isn’t available to take over at first base. He’ll hit a few homers as a reserve, and 10-15 if he plays regularly for part of the year. But don’t look for anything more than a .230-.240 average at best.

Full season holds promise for Jesse Hahn. dark. Next

The KC Royals don’t have much, if any, roster space for Ryan O’Hearn this season. Should he play, it won’t be spectacularly.