KC to choose between O'Hearn, McBroom at 1B

February 7th, 2020

KANSAS CITY -- Royals general manager Dayton Moore has said repeatedly this offseason that he is pleased with his lineup, position by position.

And heading into Spring Training, that lineup appears set, except for one spot. First base.

With left fielder Alex Gordon’s return, the outfield now will feature Whit Merrifield in center and Hunter Dozier in right -- the Dozier move to right field was predicated by the signing of third baseman Maikel Franco.

Shortstop Adalberto Mondesi and second baseman Nicky Lopez will patrol the middle infield. Salvador Perez, after missing last season, is back at catcher, and Jorge Soler, who clubbed a franchise-record 48 home runs in 2019, returns as the primary DH.

But what about first base?

“It’s going to be an interesting situation to watch,” Moore said.

Indeed, the camp’s lone position battle will be between first basemen and Ryan McBroom.

While new skipper Mike Matheny has raved about O’Hearn’s potential this offseason, the job hasn’t been won yet. There seems little doubt that Matheny would like O’Hearn to grab the job.

But the front office also was impressed with McBroom’s short stint with the Royals last season (he hit .293 in 23 games). McBroom was acquired from the Yankees on Aug. 31.

O’Hearn’s case for the job is intriguing. He grabbed the attention of Royals fans in 2018 when he was called up for the last two months of the season and posted a .950 OPS with 12 home runs and 30 RBIs.

But last year was a startling reminder for O’Hearn how tough baseball can be. He got off to a rough start, was sent to Triple-A and finished the year hitting just .195 in the Majors.

Yet what caught Matheny’s eyes were O’Hearn’s final 28 games, when he hit .297, slugged .649 and posted a 1.025 OPS. In that span, O’Hearn had seven home runs and five doubles.

“I do feel like I finished strong,” O’Hearn said, “and that gave me something positive going into the offseason.”

O’Hearn admits that he let an early-season slump, and the fact he was hitting into some bad luck, get to him emotionally.

Matheny said he can relate.

“I was like that as a player,” Matheny said at the Winter Meetings. “It’s a game of failure, and you have to be able to forgive yourself for failure. I see a lot of myself in Ryan O’Hearn.”

Matheny reiterated his belief in O’Hearn’s potential at the team’s recent FanFest.

“But we, as a coaching staff, must unlock that potential,” Matheny said. “That’s our job. It’s also up to the player to do his part.”

O’Hearn, 26, certainly appreciated the vote of confidence from his new skipper during a breakfast meeting last fall with Matheny that also included Dozier.

“He definitely has a presence about him,” O’Hearn said of Matheny. “He commands respect. Everything he says definitely means something. I mean, when he talks, you listen. After about an hour with him, I was ready to pack up and go to Surprise, [Ariz.].

“And to get a vote of confidence like that from a guy you haven’t played for is really something. My reaction was just excitement. It made me want to get better. Matheny seems like one of those guys you want to run through a wall for.”

McBroom, 27, also impressed down the stretch in 2019, though he had only five extra-base hits with no home runs.

“I’m not worried about the power numbers,” McBroom said. “That’ll come.”

O’Hearn and McBroom have options, meaning the runner-up in the battle could be shipped to Triple-A Omaha.

If both are kept, the Royals have pondered a platoon situation. But that scenario seems somewhat unlikely, especially if O’Hearn wins the job. Matheny already has indicated that Perez will see some time at first base early on as he continues to recover from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

The Royals also have other right-handed options at first base such as Dozier and Merrifield.

“We have some options there, certainly,” Moore said. “I know Mike has spoken highly of Ryan O’Hearn, and we feel the same way. But at the end of the day, as a player, you have to go out and earn it.”