Robert Osuna burst onto the prospect scene in 2010, signing for a bonus of $1.5 million as a 16 year old out of Mexico. The 6’2, 230 pound right-hander already has a boxy, mature frame with very limited remaining projection, a rarity for a 17-year-old elite pitching prospect. Osuna’s prospect status is concentrated more on current abilities rather than projection.
I saw Osuna pitch in extended spring training and was impressed for a first look at a young arm. He sat 90-92 from the windup, losing a few ticks in the stretch and his heater lacked overall life. His changeup flashed plus potential at 77-79 mph and he really had a good feel for the pitch with late depth and great deception. Along with the lack of projection and only an average fastball, Osuna also had trouble spinning a slider, lacking bite on his breaking ball at 80-82 mph and showing only average potential. His simple delivery and arm action were both good, but Osuna had a wrist cock early in his arm stroke that bothered me a bit.
Osuna put up some dominating performances in the Northwest League and after seeing him recently in instructs, he appears to have taken a big step forward. In the three-inning outing, his fastball sat 89-93 mph but his command was improved, only missing low in the zone and he added and subtracted from the pitch, most often throwing a cut fastball with plus action. Osuna’s changeup was even better, flashing 65 potential (on the 20-80 scouting scale) with late darting action rather than just turning over.
The most encouraging part of the outing was Osuna’s developing feel for an above average slider at 82-85 mph with three-quarters tilt. He would still get around the pitch and flatten it out at times, but at it’s best, Osuna’s slider would break the width of the plate with depth and bite. He also had solid feel for locating the pitch, back-footing lefties and back-dooring it to righties. In addition to his stuff improving, Osuna also corrected the cocked wrist early in his delivery.
Osuna has solid command that you can project to be above average due to his feel and delivery. He takes an online approach to the plate with a simple, controlled approach and little effort along with an upright posture at release. Osuna’s body control and feel take over as his delivery isn’t perfect—his front side is a little loose, he lacks deception and he torques his shoulder a bit as his arm is late to catch up with his body. He creates velocity by doing this but the rest of his delivery is efficient enough to absorb the added effort.
One last concern that should be mentioned is that Osuna has the same high elbows at foot plant as University of Florida righty Jonathon Crawford and Mark Prior. Again, that isn’t to say he is going to get hurt, but pitchers with this mechanical flaw tend to get injured more often than others. It’s something to keep in mind, as many teams are very aware of this.
All that said, I’m a big fan of Osuna and think he has two/three starter upside with much lower risk than most teenage pitchers. While he doesn’t have physical projection on his side, he’s incredibly advanced for his age and improved a lot with professional instruction in the four month between my looks. If American, his age (turns 18 in February) would put him in this year’s prep draft class and, while I haven’t seen every top arm, he would likely be the top-ranked high school pitcher in the country. Osuna has some projection left due to his age and he’s already pretty far ahead of the game in current ability.
Matt Smoral also joined the Jays system with a lot of buzz as the 50th overall pick in June out of an Ohio high school that signed for a well-over-slot $2 million. The 6’8, 220 pound lefty throws a power fastball-slider combo from a three-quarters slot and drew Madison Bumgarner comparisons but missed most of his high school season with a broken bone in his foot. I caught a two inning look at instructs and despite the short look, I can see what got the Jays so excited.
Smoral sat 89-92, hitting 93 mph with good two-seam life that sneaks up on hitters. With his stride, plane, length and low-effort delivery Smoral’s stuff plays up and his lower arm slot helps give his fastball life. He backs it up with an 82-83 mph slider that flashed plus potential and three-quarters tilt with tight, late break, but Smoral had inconsistent feel for the pitch’s shape.
There’s still plenty of projection left on his frame, so the stuff should only improve but Smoral didn’t throw a changeup and hasn’t had to at this point in his career. The progression of that pitch will dictate the margin for error he has in sticking as a starter. Smoral has a near ideal arm action and front side though he can tend to over-rotate his hips, a fixable issue that gets him off-balance too easily.
Smoral’s upside with a good changeup is a two/three starter, but that’s a good bit of unknown as Smoral also hasn’t show advanced feel that usually comes with an above average changeup, though it is still early in the 18 year old’s career. All that said, Osuna is much farther along with less risk and is 13 months younger, so despite the physical projection gap, Osuna is the clear choice among these two young arms.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.