By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa.—Minor league players don’t get many opportunities to impress major league managers and coaches in spring training, but Curve first baseman Jose Osuna made the most of one of those rare chances in the final days of the 2016 Grapefruit League season in Florida.
As the final days of March were counting down, the Pirates traveled to Tampa to take on the New York Yankees at Legends Field and Osuna was among the Bucs’ minor leaguers who traveled with the big boys that day.
CC Sabathia was the pitcher for the Yankees and Osuna got two at-bats against the one-time Yankee ace.
“In my first at-bat, I struck out,” Osuna said recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “The second time I got a line-drive base hit and two RBIs.”
“He had a great spring training,” Curve manager Joey Cora noted. “He did well in every big-league chance he got.”
The Venezuelan-born Osuna stands 6-feet-1 and weighs 243 pounds and could pass as a football player, but he says baseball has always been his game. The Pirates signed him as an international free agent on Dec. 5, 2009 and he’s had an interesting minor league career.
“I was a pitcher before my velocity dropped,” he said.
The Pirates signed him as an outfielder and all he did in his first pro season (2010) was lead the Venezuelan Summer League in homers (10), was second in extra base hits (26) and third in RBIs (43) in 64 games. He was only 17 years old at the time.\
Osuna was converted to first base during the 2011 season when he suited up for the Gulf Coast League Pirates. He batted a blistering .331 in 48 games and was promoted to short-season State College for the last couple games of that season.
He spent all of the 2012 season with low-A West Virginia where he smacked a career-high 16 home runs and drove in 72. He belted a club record nine homers in July and had a career-high hitting streak of 14 games in August and finished the season tied for second among Pirate farmhands in homers and fifth in RBIs. He batted .280 in 126 games for the Power.
Osuna played the 2013 and 2014 seasons with advanced-A Bradenton. In 2013, he was good at McKechnie Field (.294), but batted only .200 in Florida State road games and finished .244 overall in 123 games. He improved to .296 in 97 games with the Marauders in2014, including a .347 average in 124 at-bats as a designated hitter.
He also began 2015 in Bradenton and played in 44 games, batting .282 with 12 doubles, four homers and 29 RBIs before being promoted to Altoona on May 29. He continued his success at Altoona, batting .288 in 85 games and led all Pirate farmhands with 81 total RBIs.
“The key to moving up to the next level and the big leagues is consistency,” Osuna said. “I want to become a consistent hitter.”
Following the 2015 season, Osuna went to the Venezuelan Winter League where he batted .330 with nine homers and 30 RBIs in 59 games and was named the league’s Rookie of the Year while finishing fourth in MVP balloting.
“I had a very good opportunity there because a lot of big leaguers play in that league,” Osuna noted. “It was very good for me.”
Cora feels Osuna has a bright future in baseball.
“He had a great spring and I expect big things,” Cora said. “The sky is the limit for him.”