In a battle of two teams that entered the day tied for first place in their respective Arizona Fall League divisions, the Surprise Saguaros, led by Ryan O'Hearn, edged the Mesa Solar Sox, 4-2, on Saturday afternoon at Surprise Stadium.
O'Hearn, the Royals' No. 7 prospect, staked Surprise to a first-inning lead with his first Fall League home run, a two-out solo shot to center field that came on a 3-0 fastball from Solar Sox starter James Buckelew.
"I just wanted to make sure I was on time for the fastball," said O'Hearn, who's hitting .310 with nine RBIs through 19 Fall League contests. "I'm pretty much always looking to hit on 3-0 unless the coach is putting the red light on.
"It was good to finally get that home run out here in the Fall League and help the team win today," O'Hearn continued. "I think my home runs tend to come in streaks. I had some stretches this year where I didn't hit a home run for a while and then hit a couple in a week -- that's just how it is."
The Royals made O'Hearn an eighth-round pick from Sam Houston State in 2014, believing that he could unlock more power with a more aggressive approach. They were right, as he won Rookie-level Pioneer League MVP honors in his pro debut, led the Class A South Atlantic League with 19 homers in his first full season and slammed 22 homers this year between Class A Advanced and Double-A while hitting .275/.351/.478 in 134 games.
But after striking out 158 times on the season, O'Hearn is working in the Fall League to refine his approach and trim some of the swing-and-miss from his game.
"I'm just trying to have quality at-bats every day. Obviously you're facing some top arms, so I just want to be as consistent as I can," O'Hearn, who fanned in his other three at-bats Saturday, said about his objectives this fall.
Mesa erased the Saguaros' early lead with two runs in the top of the second, as Victor Caratini pushed across Bradley Zimmer (Indians' No. 1, No. 25 overall) with an RBI single to start the scoring before Dexter Kjerstad's bases-loaded groundout put them ahead, 2-1.
That score held until the fourth inning, when Surprise regained the lead on a pair of RBI singles from Isiah Kiner-Falefa (Rangers) and Tanner English (Twins). In the seventh, the Saguaros extended their lead to 4-2 on back-to-back doubles by English and No. 47 overall prospect Nick Gordon (Twins' No. 2).
Caratini, the Cubs' No. 15 prospect, paced the Solar Sox's offense by going 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI, while Indians No. 19 prospect Greg Allen finished 2-for-3 and increased his Fall League-leading stolen bases total to 10 with a pair of steals.
The win pushed Surprise (15-12-1) into a half-game lead over Peoria atop the AFL East Division, while Mesa (14-14) fell a half-game back of Salt River in the West. The AFL's two division winners will meet in a one-game playoff for the league title on Nov. 19.
"You're here to get better and showcase yourself," O'Hearn said. "But at the same time, everybody wants to win, so if we get a championship in the process, that'd be awesome."