BRADENTON, Fla. -- For most of his professional career, baseball season never ended for Jose Osuna. He went from Spring Training to the Minor Leagues to winter ball right back to Spring Training. So when Osuna returned home to Venezuela last October, he rested. For all of a month or
BRADENTON, Fla. -- For most of his professional career, baseball season never ended for Jose Osuna. He went from Spring Training to the Minor Leagues to winter ball right back to Spring Training. So when Osuna returned home to Venezuela last October, he rested. For all of a month or so.
Osuna's break ended in November, when he began playing winter ball for Bravos de Margarita in Venezuela with a focus on third base. The 25-year-old has continued his training at third this week, fielding grounders there during early Spring Training workouts in an effort to improve his defensive versatility.
"It's the other part of the field, the other corner, but I felt great after taking the first ground ball," Osuna said. "That felt different. A little bit more confidence. ... I feel great."
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Osuna began working at third base last summer. He spent afternoons in the infield dirt, scooping grounders hit by coaches before pregame batting practice. A natural first baseman and experienced corner outfielder, Osuna is blocked by Josh Bell and challenged by some of the Majors' larger outfield expanses. So he put on a third baseman's glove and went to work with his winter ball manager, former big leaguer Henry Blanco.
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Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said third base is probably a better fit for Osuna than left field at PNC Park, which essentially requires a center fielder's range. Of course, third base is also blocked; it's occupied by new acquisition Colin Moran and backed up by the veteran David Freese. That might make it difficult for Osuna to secure a spot on the Opening Day roster, though he'll certainly be in the discussion.
But if he returns to the Majors this year, Osuna could bounce between first, third and more manageable outfield corners.
"It's a process, so I have to keep working," Osuna said. "I'm working. The only thing I can control is to be ready whenever they need me. I need to be ready. It doesn't matter if it's in the infield or outfield."
Osuna burst onto the scene last Spring Training, batting .407/.492/.759 with five homers, 17 RBIs and 10 walks in 22 games. One reason he was so productive? A season of winter ball prevented any offseason rust from accumulating. It wasn't enough to make the Opening Day roster, but that performance helped make him the first callup following Starling Marte's suspension in mid-April.
Osuna hit for power in the Majors, with 24 of his 50 hits going for extra bases. However, he put up an overall .233/.269/.428 line and totaled minus-1.2 Wins Above Replacement. He followed that with another strong winter ball showing, batting .321 with a .915 OPS in 22 games through Dec. 17. Then came a little more rest before Spring Training.
"My body needed it," he said, smiling. "Take some time with my family and enjoy it, you know?"
Around the horn
• Marte and non-roster outfielder Todd Cunningham joined the group of early-arriving position players at Pirate City on Thursday.
• Hurdle said the Pirates have discussed carrying two or three multiple-inning relievers in their bullpen. He said Wednesday it is unlikely they'll use an eight-man bullpen, however, given the number of early off-days on the schedule and their intention to use five starters.
• Catcher Elias Diaz, whose mother was recently rescued after she was kidnapped in Venezuela, remains an excused absence from Spring Training as he spends time with his family.
"We're talking every day. It's really hard for him, for his family. It's crazy," Osuna said. "That situation is what we have every day. The only thing now that people know is because it's Diaz. That happens to other people and nobody knows. It's hard. We have to try to take care of our family over there."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.