JOSE OSUNA, FIRST BASEMAN
|Born: December 12, 1992
Height: 6′ 2″
Signed: Int. FA, Pittsburgh Pirates, 2009
How Acquired: Int. FA
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|Osuna was one of several Latin American outfielders at the lower levels of the Pirates’ system who showed the potential to develop into good prospects. While the others (Willy Garcia, Luis Urena, Gregory Polanco) were tall, lean players whose skills were still very raw when they reached the GCL, Osuna was already strongly built and had much better current hitting ability. He was originally a pitcher, but signed with the Pirates as a hitter after his velocity dropped. He always had a good approach at the plate, as he seldom chases bad pitches. He moved to first during the 2011 season. He doesn’t run well and was awkward around the bag for a while after moving to first, but by 2015 he was playing the position very well. He’s not so good in the outfield, but he does have a strong arm.
Osuna was one of the better power hitters in the VSL in 2010, leading the league in HRs at age 17.
Got off to a very fast start in the GCL and, although he cooled off a little, he continued to hit well all summer. He had almost as many walks as Ks, which is impressive for an 18-year-old who hits with power. He fanned just a little more than once every nine ABs. He played left field initially, but moved to first about halfway through the GCL season, probably to make way for the other, faster outfielders. He had two errors in twenty games, so the move at least wasn’t a disaster. He got into two games at State College at the end of the season. BA rated him the 5th best prospect in the GCL.
The Pirates moved Osuna to West Virginia, where he was the regular first baseman. For most of the season he didn’t hit especially well or poorly, except for a blistering hot July when he hit 336/366/645 with nine HRs. His power needed time to pick up, as he didn’t hit a HR until well into May. He doesn’t have great bat speed and so much of the time hits the ball to the opposite field. He didn’t strike out a lot, but his walk rate dropped well below where it had been previously. He had a reverse platoon split, posting an OPS of .673 against LHPs and .817 against RHPs.
Osuna’s hitting fell off considerably at Bradenton, especially his power. He had a more conventional platoon split than the year before, with a .698 OPS against LHPs and .628 against RHPs. He struggled severely on the road in the extreme pitchers’ environs of the Florida State League, posting a .528 OPS. He hit fairly well at McKechnie Field, at .798.
Osuna returned to Bradenton and improved significantly. This time he hit only slightly better at home, so McKechnie didn’t account for the solid numbers. Another factor in Osuna’s favor was that he was still young for the level, at 21. He had a moderate platoon split, with a .888 OPS against LHPs and .774 against RHPs. Osuna spent a month on the disabled list, starting at the beginning of May. He had a strong second half, putting up an OPS of .821 in July and .929 in August. After collecting only 13 extra base hits in his first 42 games, he had 23 in his last 55.
Osuna was eligible for the Rule 5 draft, but wasn’t selected, which is an indication that putting up solid offensive numbers isn’t enough for a prospect who’s limited to first base. He then got caught in a numbers game. The Pirates’ current front office seldom if ever has left a non-utility player at the same level for three years, unless it was in AA or AAA. They also moved Osuna primarily to right field because Edwin Espinal moved up from low A to play first. Osuna put up numbers that were marginally worse than 2014. When Broxton moved up to AAA at the end of May, though, the Pirates promoted Osuna to Altoona and he became the starting left fielder. He eventually moved back to first when Josh Bell moved up to AAA. Osuna hit almost exactly the same at Altoona as he did at Bradenton, although with weaker plate discipline.
Osuna was eligible for the Rule 5 draft again and again wasn’t selected. The Pirates sent him back to Altoona to open the season and he continued hitting exactly as he had the previous year, i.e., reasonably well but not enough to establish himself as a prospect given his position. At the end of June, the Pirates promoted Osuna to Indianapolis. He hit very well in July (289/333/544) and August (321/362/477), showing more power than previously, before going 3-for-20 in September. He crushed LHPs on the season, posting a .932 OPS against them while managing .735 against RHPs. He saw time in the outfield corners at both levels, but mainly played first. The Pirates did not call him up in September.
Osuna began the season in AAA, where he got off to a slow start, but the Pirates called him up in mid-April due to injuries and he spent the rest of the season in the majors. Osuna hit well initially, with a .785 OPS through the end of June, but he tailed off after that and had an OPS of just .605 over the rest of the season. Throughout he showed good power, but he rarely walked and so didn’t get on base much. He also was a major double play risk, grounding into them 21% of the times he batted in a double play situation, which is double the MLB average. He got the bulk of his starts against LHPs and had a .740 OPS against them, compared to .660 against RHPs. Osuna got 28 starts in the outfield corners and 14 at first, as Clint Hurdle platooned him during a couple of stretches with Josh Bell. He proved to be a capable defender at first but was poor in the outfield due to a lack of range.
Osuna opened the season in Indianapolis. He was called up four separate times during the minor league season, then came up for the month of September. He ended up with 342 plate appearances in the minors and 111 in the majors. He hit better than ever in AAA, with improved plate discipline, but again struggled in the majors, with terrible plate discipline. He hit RHPs almost as hard as LHPs in the minors, but had a huge platoon split in the majors, with a .447 OPS against RHPs and .834 against LHPs. In AAA, Osuna started 46 games at third, 24 at first and nine in right. In the majors it was six, 11 and five, respectively. He seems to have become quite competent at third.
Osuna opened the season on the injured list with a neck injury. The Pirates called him up in late May and he spent the rest of the season with them. He initially served mainly in pinch-hitting and double-switch roles, but he hit very well and his playing time increased, especially after the Pirates released Jung-Ho Kang. As late as August 9, Osuna had an OPS over 1.000, but after that he started struggling. Starting on August 10, he batted just 222/267/322. He played every day in September, but it obviously didn’t go well, as he put up a .540 OPS for the month. One problem was that he showed little patience at the plate, although his strikeout rate wasn’t exceptionally high. He had a strong reverse platoon split, with an .854 OPS against RHPs and .612 against LHPs. Defensively, Osuna started 24 games at first, 22 in the outfield corners and 11 at first. A lot of the starts at first came after Josh Bell got hurt in mid-September. He was much better at first and third than Bell or Colin Moran. Osuna did very well as a pinch hitter, with an OPS of 1.310 and five home runs.
Osuna’s late-season collapse left him with just average numbers for the NL, going by OPS+. That’s not good for a corner player, even a backup. He still has an option left, so he should give the Pirates some flexibility in 2020. At the least, they need a platoon partner for Moran, so it’d be helpful if Osuna hit lefties better than he did in 2019.