(Boise, ID) - Say what you want about Roberto Osuna. Quiet, aloof, witty when pushed hard enough, Osuna is not your typical Major League closer. To know Roberto Osuna is to know that while he possesses some of the best 'stuff' in the game, he's just as happy being away from it and talking with his buddies both near and far. I mean, isn't that the way most 22-year-old's are?
Thrust into the game by a family that was composed of a father and uncles with professional pedigree, Osuna was always around the game. Playing on the streets of his home in Sinaloa, Mexico, Roberto stopped attending school when he was just 12-years old opting to play even more baseball in hopes of becoming a Major Leaguer. In between time on the diamond, you could find Roberto on a different field - a tomato and jalapeno path working alongside family and friends grinding out the days until he was simply too good to pass up on.
The Toronto Blue Jays came calling when he was just 16-year old, and a year later had him in Vancouver pitching for the Canadians. Osuna's first game with the C's remains the stuff of legend as the Mexican came into the Northwest League like a hurricane striking out 13 batters in five innings of work at Everett with seven of the hitters going down on three pitches. It never slowed down as Osuna would bolt through the Blue Jays Minor League system until suddenly the Baseball Gods slammed on the brakes and showed the now blue chip prospect that work was still needed to make it to the Major Leagues.
See, up until 2013, Roberto Osuna had been able to get by on raw ability. He had the fastball, he had the understanding of how to 'pitch' instead of just throw - but he was soft, physically. He didn't have the body of a professional and his inability to shed his baby fat made some suggest that along with his aloof personality, that he was essentially lazy.
It's a terrible reputation to have and yet Roberto despite all of his God given gifts was perceived by some to be simply out of shape. He blew out his arm and was under the knife with some wondering if this wasn't the end of the road for the teenager who openly admits that he cried relentlessly with his father as they tried to map out a game plan for his return.
20 years ago, Tommy John Surgery was a death sentence for baseball players, but in today's world, it is almost a foregone conclusion that at some point you will have it. It's almost odder for a pitcher to have NOT had the surgery or some form of reconstruction over the span of their career. So for Roberto, it wasn't the surgery that was the issue, it was the work that had to be put in to make sure that once he was healthy that he could create a body befitting of a player ready to take the next step.
In 2014, you could hardly recognize Roberto as his love handles had been traded in for a sculpted oblique section and his weight was no longer an issue. He looked taller, more alert and ready. He broke camp with the Toronto Blue Jays after manager John Gibbons called him into his office and let him know he had made the team and was headed to Toronto and not New Hampshire or Buffalo. Even better news was one of his best friends Miguel Castro had also made the team so the shy, soft-spoken Osuna had a roommate to boot.
The baseball Gods weren't done looking in on the life and times of Roberto as shortly after the season started, Castro struggled and just couldn't avoid a series of hitters that took liberties with the right-hander's fastball. This was the Major Leagues, perceived by many as sport's biggest filtration systems that weeds out those who are good and those who are great.
As Castro got knocked around, Osuna did not. His first ever batter faced was at Yankee Stadium as they announced Alex Rodriguez, a legend among players. Osuna struck him out.
Castro was eventually moved in a deal with Colorado that brought Troy Tulowitzki back in return and has rarely been heard from since. Osuna by comparison just made his first All-Star Team with the American League and as of this article has 78 saves. He is 22 years old, pitched in 177 games and if he keeps his current pace up, will finish with 45 saves - at 22 years of age!
For perspective, Dennis Eckersley, Trevor Hoffman, and Mariano Rivera had a collective 'zero' saves at 22 years old, and actually didn't record their first saves until 24-25 years old. Osuna has the chance to become the stuff of legend and not only within the Toronto Blue Jays organization (Duane Ward had 45 saves in 1993, a franchise record), but in all of baseball.
But before we start chiseling his plaque in Cooperstown based on mere projections, let's simply step back and realize what he has accomplished since he was found picking jalapenos in the fields of Mexico. From a teenager playing in the Mexican Leagues to signing with the Blue Jays and becoming an All-Star. The journey for Roberto has been something worthy of a movie. But don't tell that to Roberto as he's likely to just smile, say something humble like 'that's cool' and get back to finding a way to get back onto the field and play the only game he's ever known.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.