Winter Leagues: Action Begins in Venezuela with a Big Day From Jose Osuna

Winter League baseball has begun in Venezuela, where seven players from the Pirates are currently on the rosters. We will have a preview of the league in Mexico once action begins there on Tuesday night. For now, we take a look at the players in the Venezuelan league, which started play on Thursday night. Just as a reminder for winter coverage, any player who played in the Pirates system during the 2016 season will be covered until they sign elsewhere. If someone signs with the Pirates during the off-season and they are playing winter ball, they will be added to the coverage.

Jose Osuna is one of those players who we might be covering until he signs elsewhere. He reached minor league free agency this off-season and recently told a local paper that he doesn’t know what the Pirates will do with him. They could possibly add him to the 40-man roster, or re-sign him as a minor league free agent. If they choose to go the latter route, the Pirates will lose their right to negotiate exclusively with Osuna shortly after the MLB postseason is over and the free agency period begins. The way the Pirates are set up now, he might be able to find a better opportunity elsewhere, but in that recent article mentioned above, he expressed a desire to make the majors with the team that originally signed him.

Osuna was one of three Pirates to see action during the first two days and he started off with a bang. On Thursday night, he went 2-for-4 with two doubles, a walk and drove in two runs. He also picked up an outfield assist. On Friday, he had an 0-for-4 night in his team’s 5-1 loss. Osuna was the Rookie of the Year last year in Venezuela, and he finished third in the MVP voting after hitting .330/.395/.519 in 59 games.

Elvis Escobar went 0-for-2 in his opening game before leaving for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. Last night, he came into the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh and singled in his only at-bat. He remained in the game on defense in right field. Escobar played 25 games in Venezuela last winter, though he only received 21 plate appearances. He should get a lot more time this winter due to experience during the regular season. After finishing the season with 29 games (plus playoffs) in Altoona, the young outfielder (turned 22 in September) will be one of the more interesting players to follow this winter. He had a strong finish in his time with Bradenton, posting an .868 OPS in July. That led to the Pirates giving him a chance to play regularly in Double-A, batting lead-off and playing center field.

Julio Vivas pitched an inning last night and gave up one run on one hit and two walks, while striking out three batters. He threw 33 pitches, 17 for strikes. Vivas got the win in the 12-11 game. This is his third season playing winter ball in the Venezuelan league, which is impressive considering that he spent the majority of this season with the West Virginia Power. Usually players don’t see regular action in this league until they reach Double-A, yet he was used often during his first two seasons in Venezuela.

The Opening Day rosters also include John Kuchno, Jhondaniel Medina, Tomas Morales and Elias Diaz. I mentioned a couple weeks back that Elias Diaz was placed on the Extreme Fatigue list, which would have kept him out of action until mid-December. I also mentioned that his winter team wasn’t happy with that decision and apparently they came to an agreement with the Pirates. Diaz will be allowed to start winter ball in November according to recent reports. He played just 35 games this year, though he spent a lot of rehab time in Pirate City. Diaz was shutdown in September due to a leg infection.

Medina will become a minor league free agent if he doesn’t re-sign with the Pirates. While he has a chance to make the majors someday, he isn’t an option to be added to the 40-man roster. Morales and Kuchno are playing winter ball for the first time. Both were teammates with Altoona and Indianapolis this year, as they shuffled back and forth all season, including a couple trips to Bradenton for Morales.

Once the action in Mexico gets going, the winter articles will be posted about 5-6 times a week depending on how many Pirates played each day. The league in the Dominican begins play on October 20th, which usually adds a decent group of players to the coverage. Puerto Rico starts on the 27th, and Australia begins play in November. There are also leagues in Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, and a smaller league in Mexico. If Pirates are in those league, we will update them.

  • Are players avoiding Venezuela this winter with all the problems down there?

    • Most of the players are from Venezuela in the league, but each team does have a few foreign-born players like Kuchno. I’ve heard that the players are fairly shielded from the problems, as long as they stay with the team at all times.

  • The Survey is now done. All voting is closed.

    Here is the link:

    https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-VP5YXGMW/

    It was interesting to see the results between P2 and our PBC Asylum site. The differences were striking in some cases. I hope to have a link for you by Monday.

    Thanks for voting!

    Time to watch some CFB now. 🙂

  • Thanks for the wake-up call John regarding the off-season leagues. I know that we have Jaso under contract ($4 mil) for 2017, but this kid has to be given a chance. In 2016 between AA and AAA in 473 AB’s he had 37 doubles, 4 triples, 13 HR and carried close to an .800 OPS. Bell the LH and Osuna the RH at 1B and both can play the OF when needed.

    • From the prospect book

      He’s an average fielder at 1b (which makes him better than Bell).
      He doesn’t walk much (worse than Bell).
      He doesn’t run well (Bell is at least average from what I’ve seen).

      The book pegs him as a bench piece, but probably not with us.

      Now that may have changed, but that is what is in the last book.

      • It might have changed a bit. This year in Triple-A was the first time he posted an OPS above .764 at a single level in a year since 2014 in High-A. He only has two instances where he’s posted an OPS above .764 outside of rookie ball. That was this year in AAA (.815), 2014 in High-A (.804), and 2012 in WV (.779).

        So while he did well this year, I don’t see him advancing beyond a bench player in my ranks. I’ve also never understood the hype on him in the comments. If Bell posted the numbers he had, people would freak out about Bell and call him a bust. Osuna is a legit prospect, and a future MLB bench guy. He might even be a borderline starter. But to act like he’s better than Bell, or that he’s a top prospect in this system has always baffled me.

        • Leefoo and Tim: I may not have been clear enough. Osuna should not be our starting 1B, but I would much rather have Josh Bell and Jose Osuna at 1B in 2017.

          If not, then we are looking to pay $4 mil for another year of John Jaso, who is a low average fielder at 1B, a much less than average runner as a leadoff hitter, and cannot play anywhere else on the field?

          NH and the Pirates blew it by passing on a LH hitting 1B AJ Reed in the 2014 Draft. Time to move beyond that with youth, not re-treads.

          • When will we ban comments about missing on draft choices (why isn’t Mike Trout playing Center field for us) and trades we don’t like…

            This crap is asinine

        • Aside from the very low minors if you look at the production in the minors there is not much difference between Cutch and Osuna. Not saying Osuna is at Cutch’s level, but Cutch improved a lot after lack luster AA and early AAA performsnces. Osuna may do the same because he is a student of the game. Osuna had to step aside for Bell with his $5M bonus, and his off year his first year in Bradenton hurt him. But he could become a valuable piece. I predict a .830+ OPS from him in AAA next year.

          • That’s not really accurate. The numbers:

            McCutchen
            A (19): .802 OPS
            AA (19-20): .731 OPS
            AAA (21): .770
            AAA (22): .853

            Osuna
            A (19): .779
            A+ (20-22): .729
            AA (22-23): .763
            AAA (23): .815

            Cutch struggled in AA and early in AAA, but that’s probably because he was rushed to those levels. Osuna reached Double-A three years later than Cutch, and Triple-A two years later. And he also struggled in High-A, with the biggest struggles coming before Josh Bell was at the level.

            And this is just stats. It ignores that Cutch had much better tools and was projected to improve his hitting going forward. There’s not much projection with Osuna.

            • Interesting that you see differences where I see similarities in the Stat pattern, but that’s no reason to argue. Could be that a weaker system permitted Curch to be rushed. But your point about the age differences at levels is valid. It just seems like Osuna hasn’t gotten much of a look yet. No doubt is first year in Bradenton set him back. Was there an injury or approach issue he was having trouble with? On the tools issue Cutch has the edge in speed, but Jose doesn’t need much at 1B. He does need to see his power blossom.

              • The system shouldn’t impact a player’s development. Cutch was rushed under Littlefield, when he was in job saving mode. I don’t think that happens with Huntington.

                Osuna’s problem in Bradenton was more approach. He didn’t really improve on that until the second half of his second season.

                The differences I see are mostly age related, plus looking beyond the stats to the tools.

        • He’s become a cult favorite on here. Whether he ever does much at the MLB level is questionable. He’s still young enough to add to the 40 man roster and give him a full season at AAA.

          • I think the cult favorite part has gotten out of hand. I realize that it’s only a few people, and then others have fun with it. At the same time, all of the Osuna talk has actually led to more and more people valuing him higher than he should be valued. And then when you say he’s a prospect in the 31-50 range, and could reach the majors as a bench guy (not bad things to say at all), it’s seen as being unfair to him.

        • Who plays better defense at first and in the corner OF options?

          • I’d say Osuna at first and Bell in the outfield. But neither one are strong defenders.

            • My fear is that you put a lineup on the field with Bell, Cutch and Mercer and you start your pitchers off in a big hole…
              Why not give Osuna a chance to win the 1st base job in spring training and try and trade Bell to an AL team that needs a DH (Boston?)

              • Because Bell is so much better than Osuna, and the slight defensive upgrade Osuna provides doesn’t make up for the offensive drop off.

                • Look at Fangraphs year end numbers for Bell – his defense this year was AWFUL.

                  let me say it one more time – if you start Cutch, Bell and Mercer in 140 games next year you will add a significant number of losses and do great harm to the development of your young starters.

    • I long for the days when you would have open competition for spots on the team… Osuna will never get a chance to show what he might be able to do and will have to go to another team for his opportunity…

      John and Tim have seen more of him than I have – just 5 0r 6 games in the minors and last year in Venezuela. But from what I have seen he would be a better option defensively in RF than Bell right now – and might even be better than Bell at first.

  • I think I may disown the Pirates if Osuna is left off the 40 man.

  • Jose Osuna: the Rodney Dangerfield of prospects.

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