Pirates prospect Osuna on the rise
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — The only thing that seems to be moving faster than the ball Jose Osuna hit out of Charlotte Sports Park on Thursday is the trajectory his career.
Osuna's fourth home run in 20 spring at bats was a line drive that cleared the deep left-field fence at the Tampa Bay Rays' spring ballpark during the fifth inning of the Pirates' 10-8 victory.
A single and a walk among his three other plate appearances improved his spring average to .500, his on-base percentage to .583, his slugging to 1.150 and his OPS to an absurd 1.733.
It's a small sample size, but consider when his 2016 spring is factored in, Osuna is batting .517 (15 for 29) with five homers and 14 RBIs in his Grapefruit League career.
“We like the guy,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He's come in, and he's got some balls to handle. He's hammered some balls. He's shown up well to this point in time in camp.”
The 24-year-old Osuna hasn't been a marquee prospect. He never has appeared among the top 20 of any annual Pirates “top prospect” list compiled by Baseball America or MLB.com. He also spent 2 1⁄2 seasons at the high Class A level from 2013-15 — usually not indicative of a player with a high ceiling or one making great progress.
But since being promoted to Class AA Altoona in late May 2015, Osuna has risen quickly. He had 21 home runs in combined 796 at-bats for Altoona and Class AAA Indianapolis in 2015-16. Now he is pounding the ball for a second consecutive spring.
“He's hit his stride,” said Kimera Bartee, the Pirates' current first base coach and former minor-league instructor who worked with Osuna since his signing out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old in 2009.
“He didn't really tear it up the first year in the Florida State League, but he didn't do bad either. He decided to take that as a personal challenge. He worked his butt off in the cages. He worked his butt off on the field, defensively and on the bases, too.”
The most tangible sign his stock has risen among Pirates brass came last fall when he was added to the 40-man roster.
“We like the player,” Hurdle said. “This isn't something that just jumped into our lap. We've watched him. We didn't want to (expose him to other clubs). We feel there's been development.”
That was shown perhaps best Thursday on his home run that landed on a boardwalk well beyond the outfield fence in Port Charlotte. But it wasn't the only example of the prodigious power the 6-foot-2, 213-pound Osuna possesses. During batting practice Thursday, several balls flew over the fences.
“Unbelievable. Just a pure hitter,” Pirates pitcher Chad Kuhl said of Osuna, with whom he has played at multiple levels in the minors.
“I feel great. I'm having a good spring so far,” Osuna said. “I'm trying to do my job today, working hard every day on the hitter's side. Just trying to take a good pitch to hit, and that's why I'm having good success.”
Osuna has played roughly two-thirds of his 4,897 minor-league innings at first base. But he is a capable outfielder, too.
While he remains a longshot to make the opening day roster, the Pirates lack a true backup outfielder and are short on power in their lineup. So it's possible Osuna could make it to PNC Park this summer.
“He's definitely putting himself on the map,” Bartee said. “If he's a secret, he probably won't be a secret for too long. He's the epitome of a coachable player. If we had 25 guys like that, I like our chances.”