KC Royals: 3 players who need strong 2021 finishes

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KC Royals, Ryan O'Hearn
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Ryan O’Hearn must prove he’s still worthy of staying with the KC Royals.

It’s been a hard road for Ryan O’Hearn since he slammed a home run off former Royal James Shields in his second major league at-bat three years ago. The July 31, 2018 homer was the first of 12 he’d hit in his 44 games that season, and he finished his promising debut campaign batting .262 with a .353 OBP and 30 RBIs.

O’Hearn homered 14 times the following season, but hit only .195, precisely the same average he’d post in 2020 when he mustered only a pair of home runs in 42 games. He surely would have been optioned to Triple-A Omaha had COVID-19 not forced cancellation of the minor league season.

The minors returned this year, though, and O’Hearn found himself there in late May to work on his failing bat—.189 was his average, .246 his OBP when the club farmed him out May 28.

Omaha was good for O’Hearn. He blasted 12 home runs and slashed .375/.451/.931 in his 19 games with the Storm Chasers, warranting a June 21 recall to the majors.

But his torrid three weeks in Triple-A didn’t completely cure O’Hearn. A .252 average since returning to Kansas City looks much better than that pre-demotion .189, but his .276 OBP after his return still requires significant improvement. So do his season numbers—nine home runs and a .235 average.

O’Hearn didn’t play against Seattle Saturday after going 3-for-4 in Kansas City’s 12-inning victory over the Mariners Friday night. He’ll need to play well between now and the end of the season; Manager Mike Matheny has been playing him regularly at first base and in right field, so it’s clear the KC Royals are evaluating his ability to play in more than one spot. That’s a good sign for O’Hearn.

The next five-plus weeks, however, will tell whether O’Hearn figures prominently in KC’s 2022 plans, or whether he’s become the quintessential “AAAA” player, one better than most in Triple-A but not quite good enough to stick in the majors.

Next. Here's who KC's 2022 shortstop should be. dark

After today’s series finale at Seattle, the KC Royals will have 32 games left on the 2021 schedule. Edward Olivares, Carlos Santana, and Ryan O’Hearn must perform well down that stretch to solidify their chances of returning to Kansas City next season.