Ryan O’Hearn was drafted by the Royals in the 8th round of the 2014 draft, after batting .292 with eight home runs and 44 RBI’s in his final season at Sam Houston State College.
Since the draft, O’Hearn has seen his power numbers explode in a big way. In O’Hearn’s very first professional game in 2014 with the Idaho Fall Chukars, he went 5-5, including a home run in his very first at-bat on his way to winning MVP honors with the Pioneer League, with a .361 average to go along with 13 homers and 54 RBI’s in 64 games.
In his most recent 2015 season, O’Hearn saw a substantial drop in his batting average, but still managed a decent .263 on the year between two levels. What stands out the most, however, is O’Hearn’s continued power surge, hitting 27 blasts over the course of the year.
Many question whether or not O’Hearn’s amazing power increase can be sustained as he climbs the levels of the Royals’ minor league system, but I see no reason to believe it won’t be able to be replicated in 2016 and beyond. If O’Hearn can keep posting the same type of numbers, it’s only a matter of time before he’s making an impact at Kauffman Stadium for the Royals.
Ryan O’Hearn — top prospect in the Royals’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:
1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?
I have been interested in baseball as long as I can remember — from little league all the way up, it’s been constant. My older brother played, so I remember going to all of his games in high school, and my dad loves baseball, so we were always at a baseball field. My dad was definitely the biggest influence growing up. He gave me every opportunity to play and be around the game.
2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?
My favorite baseball player growing up was Josh Hamilton. I always loved watching him hit, and wanted to hit like him! Also, his story is pretty amazing. It shows how faith can get you through anything.
3.) You were drafted by the Royals in the 8th round of the 2014 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?
The draft process is unlike anything else; everything you’ve worked for and dreamed about your whole life comes down to one moment. For me, getting drafted was as motivating as it was exciting. For one, the 8th round isn’t where I wanted to be, and just getting drafted isn’t the goal. So when I got picked, I just thanked God and the people who helped me along the way, and I took it as an incredible opportunity. I was at my house with my family. It was definitely an amazing day and moment that I will never forget.
4.) After hitting a combined 11 home runs in your three seasons at college, you’ve topped that number in each of your first two pro seasons, hitting 13 in 2014 and 27 in 2015. What changes (if any) have you made to your game that you attribute to the power increase you’ve seen?
My homerun numbers in college have a lot to do with the ballpark that I played in. Also, I played in the worst time for homeruns in college baseball. Both the new bats and raised seam baseballs didn’t help — at least all that is what I tell myself [laughs]. With that being said, I just really think I matured physically and just kind of figured it out in short season. That was a time that I really gained a lot of confidence in myself as a player and learned a lot about myself. When I was drafted, the Royals director of scouting, Lonnie Goldberg, just told me to be myself and let it fly. They gave me the freedom to really just get after it and develop as a player.
5.) On the topic of power hitting, you won the 2015 South Atlantic League home run derby during their All-Star festivities. Did you approach the derby with any different of a swing than you do in an at-bat during the season? After the derby, did you notice a negative change in your swing that many big league home run derby participants complain about?
The home run derby was a lot of fun. I had never been in one before. During batting practice every day, I usually turn it loose and hit homeruns in my last round, so I didn’t really change my swing at all. I think the trick is to not get too pull happy so you can create backspin. For me, it didn’t have any effect on my swing after at all. It was just a fun event that I was fortunate enough to win.
6.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?
Life on the road is probably the biggest adjustment going from college to professional baseball. It’s not easy getting used to overnight bus rides and living out of a suitcase. There’s no doubt that the minor league baseball season is a grind. It’s not glamorous, and getting through those long road trips will test you. For me, bus rides are a good time to read my bible, listen to music and sleep as much as possible.
7.) You made it to the Mills Cup finals as part of the Carolina League playoffs with the Wilmington Blue Rocks this past season. Although you ultimately didn’t pull out a championship, how would you describe the overall playoff experience?
Playing in the playoffs is an awesome experience, and I think it really helps to develop you as a player. The playoffs aren’t easy to come by; many players and coaches never get to experience that. Also, that helps prepare you to play in the postseason in the big leagues, which is really why you play the game in the first place!
8.) What do you feel went well in 2015? What are your goals for 2016?
I think that there were positives and negatives for me in 2015. Obviously, as a first baseman RBI’s and homeruns are very important. So as far as that goes, I’m pretty happy with that. Now, with that being said, there is always room for improvement! I think that I am just now starting to really figure out my swing and learning how to be a good hitter. Defensively, I want to be an asset on defense, and continue to get better in that area as well. I just hope that in 2016 I can continue to grow as a player and consistently get better.
9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?
I don’t watch much T.V. outside of sports, but I did watch the show ‘Workaholics’ on Comedy Central a lot in college. As for food, I love steak. That’s always been my favorite food!
10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?
I would just say to them that there is no easy path to accomplish your dreams, not everything is going to go how you plan it. There will be coaches, scouts, and people along the way that don’t believe in you, and you can’t let that discourage you. Also, there will be people along the way that will help you. Rely on them and learn as much as you can from coaches and other people who have been there before. Nobody gets to play this game forever; never take a day on the baseball field for granted. Remember that being able to play baseball is a gift; this game will give you a platform the higher up in it that you go. Use it to give all the glory to God. I think that’s really why we’re here, and we get to enjoy the game of baseball along the way.
Big thanks to Ryan O’Hearn for taking the time to answer my questions.
You can follow him on Twitter: @Rohearn11