On the surface, Jose Osuna is a traditional Quad A player. Too good for AAA, not quite good enough for MLB. Dig a little deeper and something becomes clear, when given the opportunity, Jose steps up. So why can’t he get a foothold on some playing time here in Pittsburgh?
The simple answer is position blocking. Jose was called up to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017 and was promptly blocked at his native position first-base by a young man named Josh Bell. He had taken on the task of learning the outfield in an effort to get some playing time, but Gregory Polanco held firm to his position as well. During the off-season following 2018 Jose was encouraged to try his hand at third base to further increase his flexibility and to his credit he showed well there too. In spot starts last season in the outfield, Jose showed a rocket arm, but range leaves a bit to be desired.
Being blocked at first-base is completely understandable as Josh Bell is at least offensively the best option and even if something were to happen to Bell such as a trade or injury, I’d imagine Will Craig and his increasing power numbers would get the next shot. Being blocked in the outfield makes sense because he is never going to be a defensive dynamo out there, but when you are behind a player like Polanco who struggles to hit left-handed pitching and himself is less than stellar in the field, one would think at the very least he could get some platoon starts out there.
The same could be said for third base, where Colin Moran has done well with the bat but defensively remains a liability. This would seem to set up for defensive replacement innings and platoon opportunities as well. His injury plagued 2018 surely didn’t help his cause.
Now, there is something to be said for a bench player of this caliber. There is nothing wrong with having a power option on the bench but if he platooned with either Polanco or Moran, wouldn’t that still be the case?
Here’s why I just don’t get continually blocking this guy from getting a good long look. In 261 at bats last season, Jose hit 10 homeruns. That’s one homerun every 26 at bats. That’s roughly 20 homeruns if he were to get up around 500 at bats. That’s, well, interesting.
There are players like Jose who have come through Pittsburgh before, Steve Pearce, R.J. Reynolds, hell even Josh Harrison was in danger of being a bench player for life for a few seasons. If there is any one player on this club that should welcome a fresh set of eyes provided by Derek Shelton, it’s Osuna. I didn’t even touch on his outstanding relief appearance in a blowout!
We often hear things like “there’s a guy who could benefit from a change of scenery”, and that may very well be true, but sometimes you can change the landscaping at home and get the same effect. One thing Jose must do this season is grab his opportunities by the horns, but opportunity only comes if the management is willing to give it.
This column should not be confused with a plea to give poor Jose a chance, I’m simply saying a team that struggled to hit homeruns for well, almost forever, should not ignore a player who clearly has some. Especially when he also doubles as a defensive upgrade at two or three positions on the diamond. At the very least don’t choose Erik Gonzalez over Jose to get a spot start at third. At the very least use him to spell Josh Bell and keep him fresh. We enter 2020 knowing Polanco will need regular rest, pencil in Jose rather than the alternatives.
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007