DUNEDIN, FLA. - It’s a scout’s job to find players.
Right-hander Roberto Osuna found Blue Jays international scout Marco Paddy last August.
“He comes to me and says: ‘You’re with the Blue Jays, right? I know you scouted Luis Heredia, I want you to scout me this year,” said Paddy.
How’s that for confidence?
From a 15-year-old?
Osuna pitched seven innings that August day against Team USA, allowing two earned runs and striking out 13 in a win during an under-16 international tournament at Logos de Moreno, Mexico.
Paddy was quickly on the phone to general manager Alex Anthopoulos and assistant GM Tony LaCava.
“I told them he was already pitching at a double-A level,’ ” Paddy said. “The savvy and poise he showed was uncommon.”
And so, Paddy began on the trail to sign Osuna this summer, the first Mexican free agent the Jays have ever signed.
“I reminded Alex and those guys of that. I told them you may as well start doing it right,” said Osuna’s agent, Oscar Suarez, from Phoenix.
While the Jays were in on Heredia, who signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, they chose Venezuelan right-hander Adonis Cardona, who received a $2.8-million US signing bonus, as their key international signing.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Osuna has joined the six-week instructional league at the Bobby Mattick facility where he and other young bucks learn the ropes, doing mundane drills such as covering first and running, executing rundowns and running, working on pickoff moves.
He’ll pitch next week when the 20-game schedule begins.
Free-agent teenagers from Latin American countries like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are eligible to sign with the highest bidder on July 2 if they are 16 or older that calendar year. Puerto Rican players, like Canadians, are included in the major-league draft.
The best Mexican players sign with their pro clubs in their home country before their 16th birthday as Osuna did with the Mexico City Reds. Against grown men, including ex-major leaguers, he appeared in 13 games with a 5.49 ERA, walking 11 and striking out 12.
The Jays gave the Reds, or the Diablos Rojos del Mexico, $1.5 million for Osuna’s rights.
So much for free trade.
It wasn’t the $4-million payout reported in July, which was later retracted.
How much cash Osuna received is unknown. Usually, teams in the Mexican League keep 75% when contracts are sold to major-league organizations, however, it’s not written in stone.
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“It’s a bit of a small over- pay,” said a rival Latin American scout. “If you want to make an impression, make a good one and they did. The amount was sensible and not based on a big-time over-pay just to get a player and try to drive home a point.”
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Seated outside the clubhouse in Dunedin on Thursday afternoon, with Blake Bentley, Paddy’s assistant, serving as translator, Osuna is asked if he’s ever heard of Brett Lawrie.
He shakes his head no.
Bentley pronounces Lawrie’s name differently and the next thing Osuna is doing is pointing to his index finger and bending it awkwardly — as Lawrie did when he broke his finger Wednesday at the Rogers Centre.
Osuna is told how Lawrie is a big deal to youngsters coast to coast in Canada.
Is Osuna the same in Mexico?
“Si,” Osuna says.
“A lot of people know about me,” Bentley translates. “I’ve been in all the newspapers a lot, on ESPN, ESPN Deportes, SportsCenter.”
What has caught the attention of the 16-year-old so far at instructional league is the coaching.
He tells his family as much when he phones home to Los Mochis (a “20-hour drive south of Mexico City,”), saying he is “amazed at the various amounts of coaches, all their different specialties.”
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After Osuna’s win for Mexico, he started and pitched five scoreless against Panama, fanning nine “and he didn’t want to come out of the game,” Paddy recalls.
“You see someone15 throwing 91-93 m.p.h., you can’t help but get excited,” Paddy said. “He had a feel for pitching. That was the one determining factor. Plus, he’s from a good family tree.”
Osuna’s father, also named Roberto, pitched in the Mexican League, while his uncle Antonio worked as a reliever in the majors for 11 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres, Washington Nationals and New York Mets from 1995-2005.
Soon after the tourney, Osuna signed with the Mexico City Reds, his country’s New York Yankees.
Paddy returned to see him pitch at the Mexico City Academy. About 10 other teams were there.
Then in March, LaCava and Paddy headed to Arizona to see Osuna face double-A and triple-A players at the Texas Rangers spring complex.
“There must have been 200 people there. Guys were there I didn’t even know who were still in baseball,” Paddy said. “He drew a crowd.”
Again Osuna was clocked at 93 m.p.h., pitching “without pressure, like he was one of the guys on the other team, seven or eight years older. He spun the ball and changed speeds. They bunted and he never panicked.”
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The final time Paddy saw Osuna was in May at a showcase in Oaxaca, Mex. where Osuna pitched three innings.
The Jays made a decision.
Paddy made an offer to Reds’ Roberto Mansur.
Did Mansur take the Jays first offer?
“They never do, do they?” Paddy asked.
Was he dealing with Mexico’s Scott Boras?
“More like negotiating with Mexico’s Paul Beeston,” Paddy said. “Mansur is the president of the team and part owner. He was very pleasant, straight forward.”
The Reds waited for other clubs to bid and decided the Toronto offer was the best, leaving the San Diego Padres, the Rangers and the Yankees in the dust.
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Osuna has thrown two bullpen sessions and one batting practice session since instructional league play began.
“He’s well beyond his years,” said pitching co-ordinator Dane Johnson. “His demeanour on the mound is something. He’s only thrown fastballs and changeups and has a great feel for it.
“It’s shocking to see someone that young pitch like he can. He’s ahead of the other 16-year-olds, the 17s and the 18s ... after that? I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”
A large financial outlay does not guarantee success. The Jays gave third baseman Balbino Fuenmayor $1.2 million in 2006. He finished this season at class-A Vancouver.
• • •
Osuna was born Feb. 7, 1995, in Juan Jose Rios, Mex.
He grew up in Mexican League clubhouses.
“My father worked with me on pitching since I was seven,” Osuna said, seated at a picnic table. “I was always in the clubhouse after games.”
Osuna is asked by me — a veteran of three Caribbean World Series — why so many major leaguers come from the Dominican, Venezuela and Puerto Rico, and so few come from Mexico.
“Not as many scouts come to Mexico. They go to the Dominican where the academies and complexes are,” Osuna said.
Roberto’s father pitched 23 years in summer ball or winter ball. “He once threw 10 days in a row. He was a rubber arm,” said Suarez.
Paddy told of going for to a “little Cuban joint” in Tampa with the Yankees’ Mexican reliever Luis Ayala and Osuna in July when the team was in to play the Tampa Bay Rays and Osuna was in Florida for his physical.
“Luis said: ‘I watched you play Little League. This is as a big a day for me as it is for you,’ ” Paddy said. “Tears came to Luis’ eyes, almost. It was like a reunion.”
Reminded of the lunch, Osuna nods and says: “We’re like brothers.”
“This is the beginning,” said Paddy. “Hopefully, it open the doors for others.”