Kansas City Royals: How Excited Should They Be About Peter O’Brien?

On Tuesday afternoon the Kansas City Royals made a trade to acquire Peter O’Brien from the Arizona Diamondbacks for a low level right-hander in Sam Lewis. O’Brien was once thought to be untouchable, but will now be headed to the American League where his skills may translate into a higher upside.

O’Brien was traded a couple of years back from the New York Yankees to the D-Backs in exchange for Martin Prado and was thought to be one of the building blocks for Arizona in years to come, but new GM Mike Hazen apparently felt otherwise. The D-Backs already have a slew of outfielders with questionable defense on their roster (Yasmany Tomas anyone?) so moving someone with the upside of O’Brien before he potentially shows his flaws on a more consistent basis could turn out to be a smart move.

That said, the Royals should have some optimism in regard to their new addition. The team doesn’t necessarily have a regular DH at the moment, with Jorge Soler likely to get some time there, but O’Brien appears to be a natural fit. The one position that O’Brien has graded positively at, first base, is currently occupied by Eric Hosmer. After struggling against left-handers in 2016, Hosmer could also see some more consistent breaks to allow for O’Brien to stretch his legs and play some first base as well. Hosmer will hit free agency after the 2017 campaign, and the Royals now have a backup plan in case they can’t re-sign him.

Of course, O’Brien isn’t quite the complete hitter that Hosmer is. He is a one tool player, and that tool is his immense power. Between the 2014 and 2015 seasons, O’Brien mashed 60 homers in the minor leagues. Last year in 105 games at Triple-A Reno he hit 24, and in 28 games with Arizona he added another five, sticking pretty close to his home run pace of the previous two seasons.

Like a traditional power hitter, O’Brien does tend to strike out–quite a bit in fact. Of his 79 Major League plate appearances, he has struck out 32 times, or 40.5%. That’s really, really high. The hope for the Royals is that with more consistent playing time (which they can offer him at the DH spot) that his strikeout rate will drop a bit.

At this point, he’s probably not going to hit for a high average, batting .254 in Reno in 2016 and .269 over five seasons on the farm. That is still an upgrade over free agent Chris Carter, who has a similar skill set and is a worse defender at first base.

There is certainly some upside in regard to adding O’Brien to the fold in Kansas City, as the club appears to be looking to add power bats this offseason with their earlier addition of Soler and now O’Brien, but both players will have a learning curve that likely won’t be fixed before the expected mass exodus of core players in next year’s free agent class. The O’Brien addition in particular gives them some negotiating power in a potential Hosmer deal at the trade deadline, because the team won’t necessarily have to move the incumbent.

If both Soler and O’Brien figure things out relatively quickly, then the Royals could make a run at a wild card spot. If they don’t, then Kansas City may be active sellers at the deadline.

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