SAN DIEGO -- New Royals manager Mike Matheny hasn't seen much of first baseman Ryan O'Hearn, but he is already a huge believer that the 26-year-old can be instrumental to the club's success in 2020.
Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore said on Monday that Matheny had been raving about O'Hearn's potential. Matheny confirmed it during a manager's session at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel.
In talking with Royals scouts, coaches and analytics people, Matheny said he is convinced O'Hearn is ready for a breakout year, similar to the one third baseman Hunter Dozier experienced last season.
"The data, looking over what Ryan has done so far in his career," Matheny explained, "[confirmed] some of the projections they saw about him that probably put him so high on everybody's list. Even what you saw [in 2019] -- there's plenty of information to provide that this guy was having some bad luck at times."
O'Hearn excited Royals fans when he clubbed 12 home runs and drove in 30 runs while hitting .262 in the final two months of 2018. But he never came close to that production in '19, hitting .195 with 14 home runs and 38 RBIs.
But indeed, as Matheny suggested, O'Hearn's numbers were skewed by some bad luck. His average exit velocity in 2018 was 91.4. In '19, it was just a tick below at 90.5.
And O'Hearn's expected batting average, which is based on exit velocity and launch angle, wasn't much different, either. In 2018, his xBA was .235; in '19, it was .227.
"We don't look away from things that guys can control, which is hard-hit rate [roughly 44 percent both years]," Matheny said. "We realize there's always something we can do, little adjustments that can be made along the way to hopefully open up that door. You watched Hunter Dozier and Ryan O'Hearn kind of go neck and neck through the system where you can see what may translate for somebody like Hunter could absolutely translate the same way for Ryan.
"So I don't think you have to dig very deep to see the potential that's there, and hopefully [we'll] be able to continue to create tools and an atmosphere for Ryan O'Hearn to flourish."
Matheny said he has seen players such as O'Hearn develop after rough seasons.
"I've seen players like him that are so hard on themselves, myself being one of them, so I can have a little empathy on the grind that you have and the high expectations," Matheny said. "Sometimes [not] forgiving yourself for failure in a game of failure, that's something that can sometimes smother a young player."
"So I think it's just continuing those conversations, but also being realistic and not trying to fool anybody here. When you've seen the talent, you've seen the success that a guy's had at multiple levels, and at some point, what's the key? I think that's the whole trick to coaching: Finding multiple keys, multiple voices, maybe something that he's heard before, but say it a different way that allows him to free up. You can go through a number of pitchers, same thing. The stuff's there, but has it translated? How can we maybe say it in a different way or present an opportunity for them to improve in a way that they haven't had before?"