SARASOTA—Over the offseason, the Orioles accumulated several left-handed hitters who could back up Ryan Mountcastle at first base. After the Orioles traded Trey Mancini last August, they tried Tyler Nevin, who’s now with the Detroit Tigers, and for the final month of the season, Jesús Aguilar.
With so few position player openings, the Orioles can look closely at this group, which includes Franchy Cordero, Lewin Díaz, Josh Lester and Ryan O’Hearn.
None of them are on the 40-man roster, but each has major league experience. O’Hearn has by far the most.
After five seasons with the Kansas City Royals, O’Hearn was traded for cash considerations to the Orioles on January 3rd and designated for assignment two days later when Díaz was claimed off waivers for the second time. O’Hearn cleared waivers and he’s in spring training. Díaz later cleared waivers, too.
After five years in the majors, including a great start in 2018 when he hit .262 with 12 home runs and 30 RBIs in 44 games with Kansas City, O’Hearn was hoping to stay on a major league roster for more than two days.
“It’s not ideal,” O’Hearn conceded. “You get traded over here. I was extremely excited and that hasn’t changed, I’m still extremely excited to be here, and [executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias] made it clear to me that even though I was going off the roster, I had an opportunity to make the team if I earned it.”
O’Hearn has never duplicated his initial success with the Royals, and last year hit .239 with a home run and 19 RBIs in 67 games. He could have been claimed by another major league team but wasn’t.
“You can’t sit and wish something would have happened.” O’Hearn said. “I wanted to be in Baltimore. When I found out I cleared and found out I was going to stay here, I wasn’t disappointed. I was excited because this was a good fit. I have an opportunity to make the team, and what more can you ask for?”
O’Hearn had been drafted in the eighth round by the Royals in 2014, but knew it was time for a new environment.
“I loved Kansas City. I loved the people there, the organization,” O’Hearn said. “I felt it was time for me to maybe move on and get a chance to play somewhere else. When I found out it was Baltimore, I was extremely excited, good young team and I love Camden Yards, I enjoy playing there, great place to hit for a lefty. Those are reasons I was excited it was Baltimore, so here we are. It’s pretty fun so far.”
O’Hearn could have an advantage over Díaz, who has the reputation of being an excellent first baseman because he’s an experienced corner outfielder. He’s started 31 games in right, but just two in left.
“Probably split time between first and right field the last two years, so I’m comfortable in right. I’m comfortable at first,” O’Hearn said. “At the same time, you get out and power shag in left field. You can get comfortable there, too. I would say at this point, probably right field and first base.”
During the winter, O’Hearn worked to make himself as useful as possible.
“Any time I could get out there on the field, guys I could train with back home, I would take fly balls,” O’Hearn said. “I always take a ton of ground balls at first base in the offseason just to say sharp, sort of a utility guy the last few years. It’s beneficial to jump in wherever they need me. I’m comfortable with that. I don’t mind going back and forth.”
The first weeks with the Orioles have been enjoyable for O’Hearn.
“Exciting for me to get a change of scenery, get to join a different organization, show them what I’ve got, show them that I can help this team and be a part of it,” O’Hearn said.
“Everything’s been great so far. The coaches are great, the hitting coaches are very smart. I think they’re going to help me. I’m having fun, the first few days I’m enjoying it, kind of getting to know everybody and see where I fit in.
“There’s a lot of good players trying to get that spot on the roster. I think I’m firmly in that conversation. There’s a lot of baseball to be played over the next few weeks. There’ll be some opportunities. I’ve never shied away from competition. I’ve never come into a spring training with a guaranteed roster spot so I think this is nothing new for me. It’s definitely exciting. It makes it fun. I love to compete. I’m looking forward to it.”
Another accolade for Orioles: The Orioles’ minor league system has been named as the best in 2023 by Baseball America. It’s the first time since the publication began ranking teams since 1984. The Orioles’ farm system has also been ranked No. 1 by MLB Pipeline and ESPN. The Athletic ranks the Orioles No