Osuna benefits from experience in Venezuelan Winter League
Getting a little closer to home played a big part in helping Jose Osuna get closer to Pittsburgh.
The 23-year-old prospect has played outfield and first base in 2016, a season during which a boost from Double-A to Triple-A gave him a boost in confidence and production at the plate. Osuna hit .290 in his first 51 games in Indianapolis after hitting .269 in 70 games to start the year in Altoona.
In Indianapolis, he was confronted by more 2-0 changeups, 3-1 breaking balls and pitchers and catchers who have had more experience in professional baseball. Osuna has adapted accordingly, logging 15 doubles, seven home runs and 28 RBIs in less than two months.
“When I got here, they threw a lot of sliders, so sometimes I had to take a pitch to wait for my pitch,” Osuna said. “I have to make that adjustment, so now I can just hit with more confidence at the plate, try to see the ball better and make good contact.”
Osuna saw Triple-A for the first time in 2016 but was taking a test he had studied for last fall, when he played his first full season with the Bravos de Margarita in the Venezuelan Winter League. It was his first opportunity to play regularly during the winter in his home country as a professional — he played in the Venezuelan Summer League as a 17-year-old Pirates signee in 2010 and in a handful of Winter League games in 2013 and 2014 — and a chance to face several long-time professionals.
Former major league All-Star Freddy Garcia, for example, pitched for the Tigres de Aragua. The Reds' A.J. Morris threw for the Navegantes de Magallanes.
“I think it helped me a lot because I was playing with people who had already played in the big leagues. That helped me a lot to be more confident at the plate and let me do a better job this year,” said Osuna, who hails from Trujillo, Venezuela. “I faced a lot of good pitchers with a lot of talent and experience, so I had to make an adjustment to the league very quick.”
In 59 games, Osuna hit .330, launching nine home runs and driving in 30. He said he entered the season feeling stronger, with a better understanding of pitch selection, a product of playing 188 games between High-A Bradenton, Double-A Altoona and Venezuela in 2015.
Osuna's schedule is one his manager in Indianapolis, Dean Treanor, highly endorses for young players. Treanor has been a winter ball coach and manager for more than a decade, spending time in Puerto Rico and, more recently, the Dominican Republic.
“I've seen it turn guys' careers around, and I've seen guys get over the hump because they've gone to winter ball,” Treanor said. “I think the experience, especially playing in your own country, there's so much pressure to win and I think that's a good thing to go through that. They have to perform.”
Margarita is roughly a six-hour drive from Trujillo, but there were a few cases in which Osuna played only three hours away, in Barquisimento, home of the Cardenales de Lara.
A consistent force at the plate throughout the winter, Osuna was named the league's rookie of the year, carrying that momentum into a 2016 season in which he grew tougher at the plate as the competition around him improved.
“Sometimes that happens,” Osuna said.
Given more Triple-A at-bats, Osuna said he did a better job of taking off-speed pitches lower in the zone. He also is more confident in his ability to hit curveballs, sliders and changeups, meaning he doesn't feel as much pressure to jump on first-pitch fastballs and has grown used to waiting out mistake pitches.
Treanor said he saw a small sample size of Osuna during spring training. Given an extended look, he likes Osuna's power and his ability to hit the ball to all fields.
“The ball comes off his bat a little bit differently,” Treanor said. “He's come as advertised, that's for sure.”