What should the KC Royals do with this red-hot bat?

Daniel Lynch, demoted to Triple-A Omaha by the KC Royals after a brief early May visit to the Kansas City rotation proved he needed more seasoning, struggled against St. Paul Thursday night. He gave up seven runs, including six in the first two innings, before leaving after the fifth.

The Storm Chasers, however, took Lynch off the hook. They rode the 10 runs they scored in the first two frames to a 16-9 victory. The Chasers are now 23-9.

And right in the middle of things for Omaha was Ryan O’Hearn, another Royal deemed in need of repair after spending unproductive time in KC this season. O’Hearn went 4-for-5 with two home runs and six RBIs. Most of the damage he inflicted came early—he clubbed his first homer, a three-run shot, in the first, and followed it with a two-run blast in the second.

His night’s work was impressive, but just Triple-A business as usual for O’Hearn. He’s hitting .400 since returning to the Storm Chasers in May, and slashing .421/.463/1.158 in nine June games.

Together with the astonishing nine homers he’s hit and 19 runs he’s driven in this month, those numbers make an almost compelling case for the Royals to recall O’Hearn.

Almost.

Precluding an immediate trip back to Kansas City is that no matter how well he hits in Triple-A, major league pitching seems to befuddle O’Hearn, at least after his commendable 2018 rookie campaign when he slashed .262/.353/.597 with 12 home runs in 44 games. Although he increased that homer total to 14 in 2019, O’Hearn hit just .195 and, despite playing 61 more games, drove in only eight more runs.

Little went right in the majors that year for O’Hearn, forcing the Royals to send him to Omaha for midseason remedial work. A return to decent hitting there prompted Kansas City to bring him back and a somewhat promising .250 in September seemed to restore the club’s faith in him.

But 2020 wasn’t any better for O’Hearn than 2019. What negative effect a preseason positive COVID-19 test might have had—he wasn’t activated and didn’t play until the fourth day of the delayed season—can’t be known with certainty, but O’Hearn hit .195 again and managed only two homers in 42 games. And despite his five homers in 21 Cactus League contests this spring, a .209 average bought O’Hearn a late-March assignment to the club’s Alternate Training Site.

The KC Royals recalled O’Hearn in late April but his struggles continued: he was hitting .189 with a .246 OBP when the club sent him back to Omaha May 28.

Does Ryan O’Hearn’s recent performance mean the KC Royals should recall him?

Should O’Hearn’s spectacular June warrant another call back to Kansas City? His power potential speaks for itself and this latest hitting binge might tempt the Royals to give him another try, especially considering the continuing inability of Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier to fully break out of long slumps.

The situation, however, demands caution. O’Hearn’s bat has fooled the club before and nine games in June, no matter how productive they’ve been, shouldn’t be enough for the Royals to rush O’Hearn back to the majors. The KC brass must be sure he’s ready before testing him in the big leagues again.

Even if the Royals decided to roll the dice with O’Hearn now, there remains the tricky matter of where to put him. The work required to improve his bat won’t get done if he sits on the bench waiting to pinch hit or occasionally spell Carlos Santana at first base. And because the club’s willingness to tolerate Soler’s dismal hitting probably isn’t going to wane anytime soon, O’Hearn won’t suddenly become Kansas City’s DH.

A present place for O’Hearn in the big leagues, one beneficial to him and the franchise, just doesn’t appear to exist.

The Royals, then, have two acceptable alternatives. They can leave O’Hearn in Triple-A, a suitable location for further work on his bat, or they can explore trading him to a better fit. The former choice is easy and logical, the latter more difficult unless O’Hearn remains hot and other clubs show interest.

The KC Royals could, of course, defy history and rush O’Hearn back to the big leagues today in hopes of adding some punch and power to their inconsistent offense.

They shouldn’t, but it could happen.

Ryan O’Hearn is having a fantastic June at Omaha. But for now, the KC Royals should leave him where he is.