As recently as June, few within the Blue Jays fan base were particularly familiar with the name Roberto Osuna. The Blue Jays acquired the Mexican right handed pitcher in August of 2011, signing the 16 year old for 1.5 million dollars. Not all of that went into Osuna’s back pocket, however, as the pitcher was under contract with the Diablos Rojos del Mexico of the Mexican League. In such situations, the team receives a vast majority of the bonus –- in the neighborhood of 75% –- leaving Osuna with roughly 400 hundred thousand dollars, a pittance for a player of his caliber.
While the deal made headlines last summer, many quickly forgot about Osuna. Sixteen year olds can only sign future contracts, that is, their contract is for the next year, not the current season being played out. Additionally, as teenagers are almost exclusively assigned to short season teams, high profile international free agents can literally be sitting on the sidelines for a full calendar year before finally getting into game action. Furthermore, their lack of experience and exposure keeps them in the back end of prospect lists -– if they’re present at all.
That was precisely the case with Osuna. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus left him off his top 20 over the winter, while the writers at Baseball America snuck him in at the end, ranking him 30th in the system. Osuna was one of the final cuts on my personal top 30, but Jared and Mat were clever enough to place him 27th on the Jays Journal top 50 prospect list. Needless to say, we were all guilty of some serious oversight, as over the past two months Osuna has established himself in the upper levels of short season ball and should find himself in the top 10 of most Blue Jays prospect rankings this winter.
He’s made a total of seven starts and three relief appearances between Bluefield and Vancouver, and has been nothing short of dominant. In his 35.2 innings, Osuna has allowed only 26 hits and 12 walks, good for a .198 opponent’s batting average and 3.03 BB/9. His ERA and WHIP have been equally impressive, sitting at 1.77 and 1.07 respectively, entering action on Saturday. The most impressive amongst Osuna’s glorious statistics is his strikeout rate, which currently sits at 10.85 K/9. The strength of the number lies in his July 28th start against the Everett Aqua Sox.
The game was Osuna’s debut for Vancouver, and he was matched up against another high profile prospect from the 2011 international free agent crop in Victor Sanchez of Seattle. The eyes of the scouting world were on him, and Osuna delivered. He started the game with seven consecutive strikeouts, and ended up striking out 13 of the 19 total batters he faced, a Vancouver record. He threw 75 pitches (with 58 strikes) in the outing, and according to Michael Schwartze of MLBDirt.com who attended the game, an incredible 45 of the 58 strikes were swinging.
The repertoire was as advertised and then some, as Osuna kept his fastball in the 91-94 mph range the entire evening, touching as high as 96 mph. Not only is the shear velocity excellent, but he displayed impressive fastball command. Osuna has also already shown the ability to add and subtract from the fastball, a trait typically found in much older and more experienced pitchers. His dominant secondary offering is his split change, which he throws in the 77-82 mph range with both deception and break. His breaking ball was suggested to be a curveball or slurve, but according to those in attendance, the pitch looked much more like a slider. It’s possible that after working with Osuna in extended spring training, the Blue Jays minor league evaluators felt a slider was a more suitable pitch given his 3/4 arm slot.
Below is Schwartze’s video from the Vancouver game, which originally appeared in his scouting report on MLBDirt.com. The article itself is an excellent read, and I highly suggest you give it a look. At the bottom of the page I’ll include another video of Osuna’s start, this time from Bullpen Banter, who have an HD option as well as a slightly different angle from the first video.
The biggest drawback with Osuna is the lack of physical projection. He stands 6-foot-2, and while listed weights are often just a rough estimate, the 230 pounds he’s given on MiLB.com appears to be a more than fair number. While he’ll evolve and develop as a pitcher, you can’t expect much in terms of added velocity despite his youthful age of 17. Moving forward, Osuna’s focus should be on developing consistency with his delivery and offspeed pitches and maintaining his conditioning, as the pure stuff is already there.
It’s not unusual for prospects to make tremendous climbs up prospects rankings in a short period of time, and Osuna could be one of baseball’s greatest risers. As previously mentioned, few had him in Toronto’s top 30 last winter, yet there are already whispers that Osuna could be in consideration for the top 100 in all of baseball. He may not have the upside of Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, or Daniel Norris, but his advanced stuff and high floor could push him to the front of the group of pitchers in the system just behind them. I can say, with absolute confidence, Roberto Osuna will be the biggest jumper on my offseason prospect list.
From Bullpen Banter: