The 2015 season in High-A Wilmington was one with so much movement of players (unlike any I can remember in recent history). First baseman Ryan O’Hearn was one of those players who graduated to the Blue Rocks from Low-A Lexington at midseason and helped the team win the Northern Division title.
O’Hearn returns to Wilmington to start the 2016 season as a key member of a lineup that returns six players (not to mention the pitchers). While he has been known for his power over his first year and a half in professional baseball, he stated in yesterday’s media day, that he would like to not talk about the ballpark (the pitcher friendly Frawley Stadium).
He did however, talk about the adjustments he has made:
“Especially in spring training. I think the main adjustment is going to be stay in the middle of the field and shoot the gaps and stuff like that. Can’t rely on the home run and I think that’s part of me developing as a hitter. And as I move up, just to hit the ball on the line and stay in the middle of the field. Because the more pull happy you get or trying to hit home runs, you’re going to be rolling over on changeups. That’s a big deal for me, to drive the ball right-center, left-center and I don’t think the ballpark, not going to matter if you hit it in the gap.”
O’Hearn was all over the place in spring training. While I was in Surprise, he played for both the Double-A and Triple-A teams. He even had the opportunity to play in some big league games (four games to be exact, going 2-for-6).
“It was cool,” to play in some big league spring training games. “It was really cool. It’s cool to know that it’s the same game once you get up there. The first time I did it, I was super nervous. But after that, you settle down a little bit and it’s just baseball. It’s cool to know that I can compete with those guys and hopefully that’s where I’ll be one day. It’s what I was looking forward to. Just be able to learn as much as you can from guys you’ve grown up watching. It was awesome.”
The KC Royals played the Texas Rangers for two games in San Antonio for Big League Weekend in the middle of March. O’Hearn was a part of the team that traveled to Texas. “What was cool, it was exciting to go home. I live in Dallas, so maybe it’s five hours from there. But just to be in Texas. My family came down, so that was cool. That was the coolest atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of in baseball. I think we had 27,000 the first day and 30,000 the second day. It was in a dome, so it was loud. It was a really cool atmosphere. You’re there and play and think ‘this is where I want to be eventually’. It was cool. It was a lot of fun.”
While I was in Surprise, the Rangers sent ace Cole Hamels to start the Triple-A game. In that game, O’Hearn (along with Hunter Dozier) homered off Hamels (O’Hearn also doubled). Both were no doubters, but O’Hearn’s was more impressive because 1. Hamels is a lefty (as is O’Hearn) and 2. O’Hearn hit it to the opposite field.
“That was awesome [getting to hit off Hamels], especially being he was the Opening Day starter for the Rangers and a guy who’s been around for a long time. It’s not so much the home run, it’s you hit it and think ‘okay. It’s not like it’s that much different’. Like ‘I can get hits off these guys’. Yeah that was really fun.”
Corey Toups is one of the newbies in Wilmington this year, but he is not new to O’Hearn. The two went to Sam Houston State together and are best friends. What is it like to play with him?
“It feels like home. Corey’s been my roommate for like six years. It’s going to be cool seeing him on the same side of the infield with me. We obviously have as much chemistry as you can possibly have. And the guy can play. He can hit and plays solid defense. He’s going to be exciting to watch too.”
Toups hit .291 in his first full professional season with the Legends last year. He played in 102 games, hitting 27 doubles, five triples, and seven home runs before an injury cut his season short in August. He also stole 31 of 36 bases.
Does it make it easier moving up the professional ranks with someone you know so well? “Absolutely, especially in the beginning when you don’t really know what to expect. You just get there and see all these new faces. It’s been cool to have him there and to have somebody that you know really well.”
You can watch the bromance between O’Hearn and Toups in Wilmington beginning tomorrow night (weather permitting), as the Blue Rocks open the minor league season at home against division rival Potomac. The P-Nats are in town for four games, before Carolina comes into town on Monday for three games.
You can watch the entire interview below: