INDIANAPOLIS — Andy Barkett was going to keep an eye on a few players at the beginning of the season.
Jose Osuna was one of those players, someone who nearly made the Pirates’ opening day roster after an impressive Spring Training. Barkett wanted to make sure Osuna didn’t have an emotional letdown after nearly reaching his ultimate goal.
“I haven’t had to say a word,” said Barkett, the first-year manager of the Indians. “My message would be, ‘Hey, you’re close. You’re knocking on the door, so let’s not change anything. Be ready to go at anytime.’”
Osuna’s time is now, promoted to Pittsburgh on Tuesday to take the place of Starling Marte, who was suspended for 80 games due to testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.
Barkett, the organization’s assistant hitting coordinator last season, remembers watching Osuna for the first time, when the 6-foot-3 right-hander was playing with Altoona. Osuna was struggling at the time with a slash line of .239/.306/.386 in May, before improving to .300/.353/.444 in June.
“The next time I saw [Osuna in Altoona] he was a different guy,” Barkett said. “I saw a different look in his eye. He was very sure of himself and how to plan.”
Osuna was promoted to Indianapolis in late-June and produced big numbers from the beginning of his time in Triple-A, finishing with a slash line of .291/.333/.482, with 19 doubles and seven home runs in 63 games.
“We had some guys last year on [Indianapolis] who I would say were not the greatest influences,” Barkett said. “I saw [Osuna] separate himself and be very professional and very structured in his work. And with a goal and a dream in mind to get to the big leagues and be successful. Not just get there, but be a good player. I think he believes he can be a good player there.”
Add Indianapolis hitting coach Butch Wynegar to that list.
“He’s probably about as ready as he’s going to be,” Wynegar said. “Not only can he hit, but he has the ability to use the whole field line to line with adjustments.”
Osuna has played just 73 career games at the Triple-A level, barely more than half a season at this level. Still, he showed Wynegar enough to earn his praise, but not just for what was done on the field. Osuna impressed with the work he did off the field.
“He’s a smart, intelligent hitter,” Wynegar said. “For a 24 year-old hitter he showed me last year in the time he was here he had the ability to make adjustments, to understand his swing and use the whole field to hit. He is a pretty good combination. He feels when things are not quite right with his swing and he’ll go to video to check it out. I like his intelligence as a hitter.”
So, while Osuna doesn’t have a lot of experience at Triple-A, Wynegar feels he has enough intelligence and feel as a hitter to be successful, as each team will likely pitch him differently.
“That’s the recollection you keep in your mind to make those little adjustments,” Wynegar said.
Osuna had a few early scuffles to open the season, hitting .188 before going 3-for-5 in Sunday’s game. That performance yesterday is one more example of the adjustments he can make.
Overall, Osuna didn’t make any drastic changes to his swing or approach during the offseason. But there were some slight changes to his stride that were made late last season that carried over into the winter season and Spring Training. Wynegar wanted Osuna to be a little more aggressive with his stride, creating more leverage with the lower half of his body.
“Sometimes he would get a little passive with his stride and that had an effect on his upper half,” Wynegar said. “And that’s a big thing about hitting — when something is going on in the upper half it’s probably due to the lower half not quite getting to the position it wants to get. As long as his angle to the ball is there and he stays on his legs well, I think his swing is really, really solid.”
Osuna impressed coaches in Indianapolis with his approach and preparation. Those attributes should carry over to the major leagues easily. Now, it’s just a matter of seeing if Osuna’s production will also follow.