Jays From the Couch takes a retrospective look at the young Blue Jays closer.
At sixteen years old, Roberto Osuna was playing professional baseball. He spent just 19.2 inning in the Mexican League in 2011, playing against men that could be his father. The results weren’t great, but he managed to impress the Blue Jays scouts to signing him that year, and by the age of 17, when most American kids are backing their Mom’s Taurus into the mailbox, he made his affiliated debut with the Rookie-level Bluefield Blue Jays of the Appalachian League, more than 2,300 miles from his birthplace in Sinaloa, Mexico. Three and a half years younger than the average age at that level in American professional baseball.
His MiLB performance didn’t stick out – a 4.38 ERA over 109 innings – but the talent was obvious. Upper 90’s heater. A K/9 of 10.9. Experience throwing against much older players. But despite underwhelming stats and the loss of a year starting in June 2013 due to undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Osuna cruised through the Blue Jays’ minor league system. He completed the lowest three levels and the Arizona Fall League in just two seasons, skipping Double-A and Triple-A, impressing in 2015’s spring training, and making the roster in March.
Since that fateful February, he’s been even better. Improved in almost every aspect. Now, at just 23 years old, he’s a leader on the Blue Jays. A veteran. He’s the man at the back end of the bullpen, what every bridge through the bullpen has led to over the past three seasons.
Few players start in the majors as closers. After a couple month of mediocrity, Osuna was thrust into that role with the playoff-bound 2015 Blue Jays. His first career save came on June 22nd of that year, slamming the door on an 8-5 victory over the rival Rays. By the end of the year, he had amassed 20 saves, doing so with a small 2.71 ERA, striking out 75 in 69.2 innings.
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Since his rookie season of 2015, where he found himself fourth in American League Rookie of the Year voting, Osuna hasn’t looked back. He’s maintained a tidy 2.96 ERA over three-plus seasons at the MLB level, accumulated a 6.2 fWAR and struck out 243. And on Tuesday night, and after just 214 innings pitched as a major leaguer, and at just 23 years old and 62 days, Roberto Osuna became the youngest ballplayer in MLB history to record 100 saves. He did so by capping off a near no-hitter from Aaron Sanchez, and knocking on Russell Martin‘s door like always.
— Vancouver Canadians (@vancanadians) April 11, 2018
Growth as a Human and a Ballplayer
But Osuna is more than just a ballplayer. Early in the 2017 season, Osuna did something so few players can do. He opened up.
In a sport that rewards overbearing masculinity and attempts to punish those deemed mentally weak, what Osuna did off the field was greater than any accomplishment on it. But the support Osuna received was tremendous, both from the Blue Jays management, the fans, and even his own teammates.
His first hug to Martin after he opened up about his anxiety issues.
— Bizzy ⚾️⚾️🤓 (@unclebizzy4) April 10, 2018
Osuna missed time early in that 2017 season with a cervical spasm, and his anxiety issues came to light later that season in June. Osuna said he felt ‘weird and a little bit lost’ in early 2017. Despite what he felt inside, though, Osuna had already accrued 19 saves on the season while posting a svelte 2.48 ERA, later earning himself American League All-Star honours that season. As the dog days of the 2017 summer wore on, Osuna became the youngest player in baseball history to record 75 saves.
Seemingly, his anxiety issues are in the past. But these things have a way about them, a refusal to evaporate entirely, and we just can’t speak to how he feels inside at any given time.
Here’s to Another 100
Regardless of your viewpoint on the value of the closer position, there’s little argument to be made that Roberto Osuna isn’t a special player to the Toronto Blue Jays, their fans, and baseball as a whole. Despite making The Show at just 19 years old, he’s shown incredible skill, poise, and personal and professional growth. In just three short years, Roberto Osuna has proven to be the heart of the Toronto Blue Jays, and he is.
For some fun, I decided to ask around Blue Jays twitter as to some of their favourite Roberto Osuna memories. The replies did not disappoint:
Hitting 99 while striking out Xander Bogaerts at Fenway in June 2016
— X – The_Road_Guy (@The_Road_Guy) April 10, 2018
Anytime he sits down Aaron Judge.
— Jules (@BlueJaysJulie) April 10, 2018
He chose me for a fans dinner invite, but I didn't check DM in time, still crying about this to this day
— N⚾ Ragrets (@NoRagrets_) April 10, 2018
Personal fav, him saving Game 2 of '16 ALDS in Texas since I was there and partied all night afterwards https://t.co/u9YfDYzAbJ
— Kyle (@tdotflip05) April 10, 2018
His original warm up tune. A crazy acid-mariachi song
— Tim Langton – Speaker of Names, Master of Horns. (@TRLangton) April 11, 2018
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Roy’s earliest memories all involve baseball from the early 90’s and the Blue Jays dream teams. He became a Blue Jays fan while watching Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green evolve in Syracuse, NY at the run-down confines of MacArthur Stadium, nestled between highway and swamp. A lifelong baseball player, Roy still plays (P, C, 2B, 3B) in the 25+ Syracuse MSBL for the Liverpool Mets. He watches almost all games with his best buddy Sebastian, a five year old Pug, who could care less.