Toronto Blue Jays 2016 previews: Roberto Osuna


The Blue Jays got a pleasant surprise in Roberto Osuna last season, and will enter 2016 looking to maximize the value of their electric 21-year-old

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Coming into the 2015 season, one of the biggest questions around the Toronto Blue Jays was who would fill out the bullpen, and more specifically, who would take the ball in the 9th inning to close out games. After short and unsuccessful stints from both Brett Cecil and fellow rookie Miguel Castro, the role went to Roberto Osuna, and the 20-year-old fireballer never looked back.

2015 Performance Recap

Alex Anthopoulos and company genuinely surprised many Blue Jays fans by taking both Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro north to begin the 2015 season. The front office philosophy had a drastic shift from valuing depth and keeping as many arms that were out of options as possible, to promoting those they viewed as the “most talented”.

When spring training began in 2015, names like Castro and Osuna weren’t even a part of the discussion, but by the time opening day came around, both were not only included on the roster, but also expected to perform in important roles.

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Osuna wasn’t immediately thrust into high leverage situations, but by the time May rolled around Cecil was on the disabled list while Castro had faltered in the closer’s role and was shipped back to triple-A. Once in the closer’s role, Osuna showed why he was such a valued member of the minor league system and proved his worth many years ahead of schedule.

The rookie finished the season with 20 saves in 23 opportunities and an ERA of 2.58 in 68 appearances. He struck out 75 over 69.2 innings against 16 walks for a WAR of 1.7. He also finished 4th in American League Rookie of the Year voting.

While the season didn’t end on the note he likely hoped for, Osuna also performed with poise in the playoffs and gave Jays’ fans reason to believe that the best is yet to come in his career.

2016 Role and Steamer Projections

After such a successful debut, closing for a playoff contender, it seems like a no-brainer for Osuna to return to the role for the 2016 season. However, there are many variables that could see his role shift which makes projecting his 2016 a very difficult task. The Blue Jays added another bullpen arm with plenty of closing experience in Drew Storen, giving them the flexibility to explore the best options for the club, for both the short and long term.

Because Osuna had been a starter in the minors (and likely gives the club his greatest value long term in that role), there has been speculation that the Jays are reluctant to cement him as the closer of the present and future. Without the addition of Storen, Osuna undoubtedly returns to the closer’s role, but his presence gives the club many options.

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The young Mexican right hander could serve as the closer, as a set-up man, or perhaps in a looser high-leverage role. Many writers are calling for Osuna to serve in a multi-inning set up role, allowing him to provide the possibility of multiple innings after the starter is removed, and also moving in the direction of stretching him out as a starter.

As of this writing, Osuna is tabbed by Steamer to finish with an ERA of 3.19 over 65 innings with 17 saves and a WAR of 0.7. Steamer also projectes Drew Storen to finish with 20 saves, further reinforcing that the closer’s role is up for grabs and that it’s entirely possible both men could get a chance to finish games in 2016.

What could go wrong?

Well…. like any 21 year old who quickly ascended to the MLB, Osuna could very well take a step back from the success he found as a rookie. Many young arms have struggled once big league hitters have had a chance to see them and their scouting tapes have been more developed. Osuna debuted as the youngest pitcher to take the mound for the Blue Jays and will have to make adjustments as he continues to gain experience in the bigs.

Several other factors will come in to play as well depending on how the club decides to use him in 2016. Perhaps he continues as the closer and flourishes again as he did in 2015. It’s also entirely possible that the Jays decide to use him as a set-up man/multi-inning reliever, introducing the inexperienced pitcher to another unfamiliar role.

While he has the talent to flourish in whatever role he is asked to fill, there are no guarantees with anyone in the MLB, let alone a 21 year old with less than 70 MLB innings under his belt.

What could go right?

He could continue as a dominant closer as he did in 2015 or fill a variety of roles in the bullpen. There have been some scouts and writers calling for him to be stretched out as a starter prior to the start of the 2016 season, however it seems very likely he’ll continue to work in the bullpen.

With a strong 4 pitch arsenal, chances are Osuna will continue to provide great value to the Jays, regardless of what role he is asked to fill.

Next: 2016 Blue Jays previews: Josh Donaldson

The bottom line

Few pitchers of Osuna’s age are guaranteed a spot on an MLB roster, but Osuna would really have to tank in spring training in order to lose his back-end role, let alone his roster spot. While his value could be directly tied to the role the club asks of him, Osuna’s talent provides the type of flexibility that John Gibbons and company will greatly appreciate in 2016 and beyond.

Personally, I’d like to see him stick as the club’s closer in 2016 and continue to be a dominating presence at the back end of the bullpen. Yes, Storen’s presence gives the Jays flexibility, but it’s always dangerous to “fix what ain’t broke”, and Osuna was about as reliable as they come last season.

Either way, the Jays have a gem in the 21-year-old, and will have a difficult task trying to balance their “win-now” philosophy against the long term growth and potential that Osuna could provide.