KC Royals: Why this player shouldn’t make the club

(Photo by Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports Kansas City Royals)
(Photo by Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports Kansas City Royals) /

A KC Royals player who seemed set for a long career shouldn’t make the team.

The math of major league roster construction is easy. A single number—26—is the only one that matters right now. That’s how many players the KC Royals can have on their active roster when Opening Day arrives, and the club has to name them by Thursday morning.

The hard part of finalizing a big league roster, of course, is deciding who among the players who aren’t locks will make the club. Close competition for those few openings makes decisions difficult; specific team needs, and past and present performance, dictate the final choices.

When it comes to Ryan O’Hearn, who’s been in Kansas City for most of the past three seasons, the need really isn’t there. Nor are sufficient past and present performances.

And that’s sad. It was only three years ago O’Hearn seemed destined for a long, productive major league career after clubbing 12 home runs with 30 RBIs in just 44 rookie season games. He slashed a more than serviceable .262/.353/.597 with a 154 OPS+ in that 2018 campaign, and looked like he could plug the club’s big first base hole.

He clubbed 14 homers in 2019, but that didn’t matter much to a bad, 103-loss club, especially considering O’Hearn’s season-long struggle at the plate. His poor hitting required a remedial trip to Triple-A Omaha, he finished with an unacceptable .195/.281/.369 major league line, and his OPS+ dropped 85 points. Last season wasn’t any better—O’Hearn hit .195 again and had only two homers in 42 games.

Not much has gone right, or even well, for O’Hearn since the Royals’ first 2021 Cactus League contest back in February, when he went 1-for-2 with a solo homer and a walk; he’s 5-for-37 (.135) following that first appearance. O’Hearn’s spring slash is .154/.267/.462 with 17 strikeouts in his 39 official at-bats. An 0-for-2 day against Milwaukee Saturday didn’t help.

That Baseball Reference’s  “OppQual” factor, an instructive measure quantifying the quality of opposing pitching, suggests O’Hearn faced hurlers hovering between High-A and Double-A quality over his first 17 spring games, makes things worse.

Simply put, and aside from the 14 homers he hit in 2019, O’Hearn hasn’t offered much offensively since his rookie campaign. There’s no longer much reason to believe he will.

And the KC Royals have little present need for him. Offseason free agent signee Carlos Santana is going to play first base, O’Hearn’s best position, and O’Hearn isn’t versatile enough to land a significant reserve job on a club that values the commodity so highly. Yes, he’s a lefthanded hitter, and every team can always use a good lefty bat off the bench, but O’Hearn’s career .221 average against righthanders doesn’t commend him well for such a role.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a good spot for O’Hearn in Kansas City anymore. A season back in Omaha might help—he’d have a good opportunity to spend the spring and summer playing and working on his hitting every day instead of sitting on the big league bench.

For now, though, his place isn’t in Kauffman Stadium. His bat needs to get well first.

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Ryan O’Hearn’s stock has fallen with the KC Royals. He shouldn’t be on the roster when the 2021 season opens.