Considered the Blue Jays’ top international acquisition of 2011, hard-throwing right-hander Roberto Osuna comes in at No. 27 on our top 50:
No. 27: Roberto Osuna
Born: February 7, 1995 in Juan Jose Rios, Mexico
Bats: Right Throws: Right
High School: N/A
Acquired: Signed by the Blue Jays as an international free agent on August 30, 2011 for $1.5 million
Pre-2011 Rank: N/A
- Nephew of former Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Antonio Osuna
- Nicknamed “little canon” after his uncle’s nickname “El Canon”
- The second-youngest pitcher in Mexican League history
- His father, of the same name, also pitched in the Mexican League
- Is the first Mexican free agent to be signed by the Blue Jays
- Was initially expected to sign for $4 million
Osuna striking out the side (starting at the 0:23 mark) in the Lansing Lugnuts’ annual Crosstown Showdown, April 5, 2012:
In the summer of 2010, the Blue Jays heavily scouted 15-year-old Mexican pitcher Luis Heredia, going down to the wire in their attempt to sign him once he had turned 16 and was eligible to ink a contract. One of the top international prospects available at the time, as many as seven teams were interested in Heredia and it was reported that the Jays offered the highest bid at $2.8 million.
But the Pittsburgh Pirates, having already known Heredia for over 10 years and possessing strong ties to Veracruz, his team, wound up winning the bid and left the Blue Jays virtually empty-handed, something that the Jays surely weren’t going to let happen again if another young Mexican prospect emerged in the future.
So months later, when 15-year-old Roberto Osuna was already touching 94 mph on the radar gun, then-Blue Jays international scout Marco Paddy was made signing him a priority after being easily impressed. The funny thing, though, was that Osuna somewhat came to the Blue Jays himself.
“You’re with the Blue Jays, right? I know you scouted Luis Heredia, I want you to scout me this year,” Osuna said to Paddy at the time, according to a Toronto Sun article.
That didn’t mean that there wasn’t a list of teams competing with the Jays to sign Osuna, as it was reported that as many as 200 people from more than 10 teams would watch him pitch.
The day Paddy met Osuna for the first time, he pitched in an under-16 international tournament where he allowed a pair of earned runs with 13 strikeouts in seven innings, finishing that tournament with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 20:2. Already pitching at a Double-A level according to Paddy, Osuna signed with the Mexican League’s Mexico City Reds shortly after the tournament.
The highest level of baseball in Mexico and considered Triple-A/professional-level, the Mexican League is comprised of grown men and former major leaguers with an average age of over 29. That didn’t stop a 15-year-old Osuna, playing for Mexico City, the most acclaimed and popular team in the league, from holding his own against players well into their 30s.
In 13 games, Osuna gave up 12 earned runs on 25 hits in 19 2/3 innings for a 5.49 ERA, with 11 walks and 12 strikeouts. He struck out the first batter he faced swinging and two of his first three, while becoming the second-youngest pitcher in Mexican League (Liga Mexicana de Beisbol) history at 16 years, two months. Pitching well beyond his age and already mixing up his pitches, the Blue Jays had seen enough and offered Osuna a $1.5 million bonus when he became eligible to sign in July of last year. The Jays made sure to make the most lucrative offer — as Mexican League clubs pocket 75% of the amount with the player getting the rest — and in the end, they got their man.
It’s easy to see why the Blue Jays and more than 10 other organizations were so impressed with Osuna. Having just turned 17 in January, the right-hander has a quick arm with a smooth delivery and an advanced feel for pitching. His fastball velocity has been inconsistent, ranging from 88-94 mph, but he apparently hit a minimum of 92 with it while pitching for the Lansing Lugnuts in their Crosstown Showdown last month. The fastball has mild arm-side movement and projects to be a plus pitch with the potential to be graded even higher down the road, considering he’ll almost certainly add velocity to it.
Complementing his fastball is a 72-77 mph, 11/5 curveball/slider (slurve) that projects to be an above-average to plus pitch, though a lot of work will be needed to reach that. Still, the pitch was rumored to consistently sit in the low-80s last month with good two-plane movement, so it appears that Osuna has already made improvements to the pitch since signing almost one year ago. He also shows a good feel for a 77-80 mph changeup that, according to Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus, has splitter-like movement with some late drop.
Osuna throws from a high three-quarter arm slot with a high leg kick and, although not a concern given the fact that he’s just 17 years old, he tips his off-speed pitches by either slowing his delivery, throwing from a different arm slot, or fumbling with the grip in his glove. The main knock on Osuna is his immature and somewhat overweight body, which I can confirm after seeing him in spring training in March. Even though I had read scouting reports on Osuna before, I was surprised at the thickness of Osuna’s frame in person, so his coaches will surely keep an eye on his conditioning going forward.
Given his age and his proximity to the majors, Osuna is a very raw prospect and could go down a variety of different paths in his development. Baseball America considered the risk on Osuna extreme, but since pitchers at his age don’t come around every day, the reward could very well be extreme as well.
2012 team: GCL Blue Jays (Rookie)
Ultimate ceiling if he puts it all together: No. 3 starter