The Pirates called up Jose Osuna yesterday to replace Starling Marte on the active roster. For now, we can assume that Osuna will be up until Marte returns, or unless the Pirates add someone from the outside.
When a prospect is promoted to the majors for the first time, we always do an article that details their game on both sides of the ball. We cover these prospects from the day they enter pro ball all the way through their promotion to the big leagues, and all of the information we have goes into that article. In the case of Osuna, we’ve been covering him for seven seasons, with the 2017 season being number eight. He has been listed on every top 50 prospect list we’ve ever published, and has been written about in over 1,000 articles on the site.
I almost feel like a “The Book on Jose Osuna” article is unnecessary here, since there is actually a Jose Osuna fan club on the site. Sometimes a few of those members have gone to extremes and have gotten so high on Osuna that our evaluation of him can’t even match the expectations, even though we’ve been calling him a future MLB player since his last name was spelled “Ozuna”.
But as prospects continue to get promoted to Pittsburgh, the list of our Book features will continue to grow, and I wouldn’t want to leave Osuna off the list. So here is The Book on Jose Osuna:
Where Did Osuna Come From?
The Pirates signed Osuna in May 2010 out of Venezuela. Typically, players who sign that late aren’t highly regarded. However, Osuna had some competition, and commanded a $280,000 signing bonus. This all came after he moved off the mound. He was hitting 94 MPH as a pitcher, but profiled much better as a hitter.
He immediately showed why he was highly regarded, going to the Venezuelan Summer League and hitting for a .251/.325/.465 line with ten homers in 215 at-bats. He quickly got on the prospect radar, and was #4 on our ten international prospects to watch in 2010.
Osuna remained on the top prospect lists going forward, making every single top 50 list we have produced from 2011-2017. He was one of four big breakout prospects we wrote about prior to the 2012 season in West Virginia, joining Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, and Willy Garcia. Now that Osuna is in the majors, all four of those players have reached the big leagues.
Osuna continued hitting and showing some power as he moved up in the system. His bat dipped along the way in Bradenton in 2013, but he rebounded the next year, and got back on track in the higher levels in 2015. He continued putting up strong offensive numbers this spring, and almost won a spot out of big league camp, but was sent down to Indianapolis to be the first guy called up when a spot opened.
The Hitting Skills
Osuna’s prospect value has been fueled by his bat. After leading the VSL in home runs in his first professional season, he carried his power over to the US, hitting for a .149 ISO or better at every stage of his career, outside of the 2013 season in Bradenton. The one downside here is that while Osuna does have power, that power seems to be limited. He usually sits in the .149-.170 ISO range, and that has carried over to the upper levels. However, there doesn’t appear to be extra power, leading to the potential for double-digit home runs and a lot of doubles.
Throughout his career, Osuna has crushed lefties, and hasn’t had the same success against right-handers. A big reason for this is that right-handers will throw breaking pitches or sinkers in on his hands, which is an approach he struggles with. Osuna worked to keep his swing balanced heading into this year, while also being a little more selective when it comes to those inside breaking pitches.
Osuna has the skills to hit in the majors, with the ability to hit for average, good plate patience, and some power. He’s not a slow runner, but doesn’t have add any extra value with his speed. His offensive upside would be a strong hitter off the bench, or enough offense to be an average starter at best with his defense.
The Defense at the Corners
When he made his debut, Osuna was a corner outfielder. He quickly moved to first base due to his size, and handled the transition well. Osuna is not a plus defender by any means, but doesn’t lose a lot of value at the position. He has good glove work at the spot and can handle his own, falling closer to John Jaso than Josh Bell if comparing him to a current Pirate.
When the Pirates moved Bell to first base, they started getting Osuna reps in the outfield in order to keep his bat in the lineup and give him more chances to reach the majors. He doesn’t have the best range or take the best routes, but the outfield does allow him to show off his plus arm strength, which is limited when he is playing first base. Osuna could be an option to play right field in the majors, but doesn’t have the range to play left, especially in PNC Park.
The Pirates also had Osuna practicing at third base this spring to add another option, although he hasn’t played in a game at the position, and it’s very doubtful he will get in a game this year while he’s in the majors.
What is Osuna’s Upside?
Osuna has the upside of a strong hitter off the bench who can add some power while playing first base or right field. That gives him more value with an American League team than a National League team, although with Starling Marte out for half the season, he could have a good opportunity in Pittsburgh. He’s got a chance to be an average starter at best, but that would require his power carrying over to the big leagues in the same way it played in the minors, along with defense at first base that wouldn’t take away much value from the offense.
His chances with the Pirates would be limited to a bench role or a depth option out of Triple-A, regardless of the position. He’s behind Josh Bell on the first base depth chart, and in a normal circumstance he would be behind Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco in the outfield, with Austin Meadows eventually ahead of him. Right now, it appears Adam Frazier will also be ahead of him for outfield playing time.
It’s hard to say how long Osuna will be up in the majors. If the Pirates decide to go with an outside option, then his trip to the big leagues might be short. If the Pirates want to give him a shot to see what he can do, then they could use this as an opportunity to give him an extended look off the bench. It could be very similar to Adam Frazier’s situation last year, where Osuna will have a chance to win a permanent spot on the bench, and move up on the depth charts to the point where he’s a top option for starts when an injury (or suspension) opens a starting role.
Long-term, I think Osuna’s best opportunity might come with another team, since he’s blocked with the Pirates and limited to a bench role, in a role that is difficult to carry for an NL team. But for this year, with Marte’s suspension, that won’t be an issue.