When you’re an amateur scout like myself often times, actually more often than not, you have to admit you may have been wrong in an assessment or too conservative. Thus is the case with Ryan O’Hearn of the Wilmington Blue Rocks and Kansas City Royals organization. Coming into the year, I ranked O’Hearn extremely conservative in comparison to some of the prospect for the following reasons:
Age – At age 21 O’Hearn was right about average for the levels that he performed at; not old, but not young either, and playing players without his level of experience.
Strikeouts – Considering he was of average age, the number of strikeouts had climbed at a decent clip at every bump in the road so far in his journey going from 20% at Idaho Falls, 24% at Lexington and 29% at Wilmington in his graduation at the end of the year. The power numbers had flashed above rate at both Idaho Falls and Lexington but the large K rate wouldn’t be sustainable if he continued to climb levels.
Positional flexibility – After the draft of O’Hearn, Baseball America had mentioned that O’Hearn had a slight chance of playing a corner outfield with his average positional speed. While that can be read as a positive for most organizations, the facts are that with the Royals it just wasn’t going to be likely with one of the largest outfields in the league and a front office that knows they need defensive speed in the outfield. For a team and a manager who doubts whether Reymond Fuentes is good enough in a corner to play over Paulo Orlando against some right-handed pitchers, how was Ryan O’Hearn ever going to be good enough to play in the outfield? It just wasn’t going to happen therefore O’Hearn is a first base only guy and any first base only guy has to hit a ton, that can be a negative even for some elite prospects.
With those reasons I placed O’Hearn in the high teens/low 20’s ranking with a wait and see near Balbino Fuenmayor as both players who could possibly groove into the positions as future inexpensive first base/DH types when Kendrys Morales (Balbino) or Eric Hosmer (O’Hearn) departs via free agency. Seeing both players as similar to what Clint Robinson had been with the org previously, a capable first baseman if given a chance but not a likely All Star.
After ten games, it appears that my assessment of O’Hearn definitely needs to be altered with him showing a change in his game. That change is an ability to alter his game that the defense and opponent is playing against him as teams in the Carolina league have gone to playing the shift against him which O’Hearn has shown he can beat not only with hits to that side but plenty of power that way as well.
This is a definite change for O’Hearn as he’s already hit his two out of the park home runs to left as well as a few doubles deep to that side and plenty of other hits as well. Compared to his ’15 chart which featured two home runs for the year to the left side and the majority of his damage to center and right. My assumption was as he moved up the chain that one trick pony would start to lessen as he climbed against the competition.
The adjustment made by O’Hearn shows his hitting skill level is much greater than I assumed at the time of my assessment.
To put into context what we are seeing out of O’Hearn through 10 games, let’s compare him to a couple other Royals prospects who achieved quality results at Wilmington.
Ryan O’Hearn 2016 Age 22: .425/.467/.750 4-2b, 3 HR (one inside the park)
Eric Hosmer 2010 Age 20: .444/.512/.583 1-2b, 2-3b similar to O’Hearn the Royals current 1b returned to Wilmington after a brief audition the season prior. The ’10 season would be Hosmer’s finest in a full season as he would blast through Wilmington in just 87 games (.974 OPS) prior to leading NW Arkansas to a AA title.
Wil Myers 2010 Age 19: .425/.452/.525 4-2b Myers was somewhat slow out of the gate in April with Burlington but once he started to hit he didn’t stop earning a promotion to Wilmington in July, once there he didn’t slow down.
Obviously the ages for both Hosmer and Myers are quite a bit more positive than the 22-year old O’Hearn, but still the numbers are impressive nonetheless and at least start to prove he is a prospect who should be rated much higher than I did prior to the season. At this point O’Hearn is a definite Top 10 Royals prospect. At this pace, O’Hearn is likely to earn a midseason promotion. If he handles AA pitching, he could get inside the Royals Top 3 prior to the start of next season.
Troubling signs – While catcher Chase Vallot has hit at an extremely strong level (.367/.474/.667) at Low-A Lexington to start the year he’s struggling behind the dish defensively. Early into the year Vallot has already allowed four passed balls to squeak through while runners are successful in 14 of 17 stolen base attempts. The offensive end of his game is definitely the most important part to his career going forward but any organization with Ned Yost running the major league team will not likely allow itself to give catching time to a less than average backstop defensively.
Photo Credit: Jake Rose; follow Jake on Twitter @JRoseGraphics