Killer finishing kick: Osik came on strong at the end of his first professional season. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)
Part of the pleasure of covering minor league baseball is being able to share with the members of White Sox Nation, information about “who’s next” in the pipeline of talent between the Arizona Rookie League and Guaranteed Rate Field. There are players whose names are well-known throughout the fan base long before they make their debut on West 35th Street, and others who emerge seemingly out of nowhere.
One of these under-the-radar prospects who is likely to receive far more attention in 2020 is Kannapolis Intimidators outfielder Tyler Osik.
Although he is a young man at 22 years old, it has been a long path for Osik to traverse into the minor league ranks. He began his college baseball career at D-2 Coker College in 2015 before transferring to JUCO baseball powerhouse Chipola (Fla.) for his sophomore season in 2016. He missed all of 2017 due to Tommy John surgery before redshirting his junior year at his third school, the D-1 University of Central Florida.
Osik was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th round of the 2018 draft, but instead opted to return to school as a fifth-year senior before being taken by the White Sox. (Osik to the White Sox may have been meant to be, according to Osik: “The day before the draft my girlfriend Emily was wearing all black and white and jokingly said that it was a sign and I was going to be with the White Sox, so it was crazy when I got drafted by them.”)
Drafted in the 27th round of the 2019 draft, Tyler is the son of 10-year major league veteran Keith Osik. As a typical senior signee with no negotiating leverage, he was inked to a modest $2,500 signing bonus. He quickly reported to the AZL White Sox, where he received his introduction to minor league life before finishing the season with the Low-A Kannapolis Intimidators.
Although many players wear down in their first exposure to professional baseball due to the culture shock of the schedule, travel, and dog day weather, Osik finished his season firing on all cylinders. As others were hitting the proverbial “rookie wall,” Tyler was hitting home runs (five in his last 12 games after hitting none in his first 45 games).
Osik recognized the impact of the Intimidators hitting coach and shared with South Side Hit Pen, “Cole Armstrong taught me a couple of cues to practice with my swing every day that helped me get to where I needed to be for games.”
Armstrong’s advice coupled with Osik getting comfortable in his new environs seemed to be the magic elixir, as the right-handed hitting outfielder appeared to have enabled cheat codes for his last 22 games in slashing an impressive .321/.380/1.020 OPS over that span.
Although it’s far too early in the young outfielder’s development to discuss platoon options, it is worth noting the way he laid waste to left-handed pitching. In a small sample size of 54 at-bats, Osik hit .370, with all five of his home runs coming against southpaws. Of the tools baseball scouts look for, Osik stands out in his potential to hit for both average and power. It’s also noteworthy that along with his statistical prowess during the season’s last 22 games even his outs were generally of the “loud” variety; he hit numerous balls to the warning track while also displaying a penchant for generating exceptional exit velocities.
Osik notes that one of the biggest differences between the college and pro game is the “consistent velocity you see in minor league baseball,” adding that he prepares for this aspect of the game by taking batting practice against an 85 mph pitching machine from 45 feet. (To put that in perspective, the equivalent speed from a major league 60´6´´ pitcher’s mound would be an Aroldis Chapman-like 105 mph.)
Some of baseball’s biggest brightest stars and prospects are the progeny of former professional players; Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Bo Bichette, Vlad Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatís Jr. and Bobby Witt Jr. are some of the names that quickly come to mind. Of course, possessing big league DNA often comes coupled with great expectations.
“Growing up with my dad playing was a blessing,” he says. “I have a lot of great memories being around the ballpark with him. I had the opportunity to take ground balls with Pokey Reese and hit in the cages with guys like Scott Podsednik, Jason Kendall and Brian Giles.” Osik also fondly shared a childhood memory of running in the sausage race at Miller Park while his dad was a member of the Milwaukee Brewers (side note: he didn’t win).
Rather than grumble about the pressure of being the son of a major leaguer, Osik praises his father for helping him become the player he is. “Having a dad who played has helped me so much,” he says. “He has put in countless hours helping me improve my swing since I was a little kid, and still to this day.”
In the offseason, Osik’s daily hitting routine consists of tee work, front toss and batting practice. During the season, the Osiks speak on a daily basis, with Tyler discussing his games and minor league life in general while seeking advice from his father about how to continuously improve.
During the White Sox recent instructs, the team began experimenting with Tyler at catcher, the position his father manned for a decade in the big leagues. “I have been learning to catch, so having a former catcher as a dad is a blessing,” Osik says. “He is always helping me by showing me drills and getting me where I need to be. He has been a great role model, not only in baseball, but also as the type of man and father I aspire to be in the future. He always tells me to push myself and to work my hardest on and off the field, as well as to be a good teammate.”
Tyler’s father seems to embrace the catching experiment and offers, “Tyler has always hit. If he can get the catching down, the sky is the limit. I can see him catching and driving in runs at the big-league level.”
As a hitter, Osik says that he isn’t really into the analytics of launch angle or swing path. Instead, he takes his cues from watching video of the best hitters in the game. He utilizes small-bat drills such as top hand/bottom hand to ingrain a tight, connected swing while maximizing the amount of time he keeps the barrel in the hitting zone. One of the adjustments he has made is to look to do damage with every swing he takes and avoid being passive when he’s in a favorable count. Osik expounds: “The defense will continue to get better as you move up levels, so it is important to not get cheated when I’m in a hitter’s count.”
With the current state of the White Sox system there appears to be a glut of outfield talent, with Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert likely to be stalwarts at the major league level for the foreseeable future and several high-profile prospects waiting on the periphery. The White Sox catching situation is similar, with the system’s top three catching prospects all spending significant time at Triple-A Charlotte in 2019. Having the positional versatility of being able to catch, play first base or man a corner outfield spot can only enhance Osik’s development, as it will afford his manager options to keep his potent bat in the lineup.
Another intangible in Osik’s skill set that may not be getting the credit it warrants is his even demeanor, as he seems to possess the innate ability to avoid getting caught up in the gravity of any particular situation. Having grown up around pro ball players might be some of the reason that Osik seemingly can rise to the occasion without being affected by the pressure.
In 2018, Osik’s UCF baseball team knocked off the Florida Gators, who were ranked #1 in the nation. In front of a sold-out home crowd, Tyler went 4-for-5 with four RBIs, leading the Knights to a 9-7 win.
He also displayed this trait late in the Intimidators season when facing off against one of the Washington Nationals top prospects, 2019 first round pick Jackson Rutledge. Rutledge, a 6´8´´ righthander, has the stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation ace and displays a very impressive, three-pitch arsenal (fastball, slider, curveball), with a fastball that sits comfortably in the 94-96 mph range and touches 99. When facing Rutledge, Osik showed absolutely no problem handling the fireballer’s exceptional velocity as he was able to square up a two-strike, 95-mph offering and send it deep to his pull side warning track. It was an out, but only because it was struck with too much launch angle; the hang time on this fly ball was awe-inspiring and would have made Oakland Raiders Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy envious. Later in the same game, Osik broke a 1-1 tie by launching relief pitcher Alex Troop’s offering for a two-run homer, as the hometown Intimidators went on to win, 3-1.
In the field, the 5´10´´, 203-pound, well-muscled Osik is not a burner, so he tries to maximize his defensive ability by getting good reads on fly balls and taking efficient routes when tracking them down. He spent the 2019 season alternating between designated hitter, first base, and left field.
During this offseason Osik plans to continue to work in the weight room to get stronger and faster. After the lengthy combined college and professional season, he understands the importance of his conditioning in maintaining both health and stamina. He has always been a hard worker in the weight room, but credits his friends (fellow minor leaguers Bowden Francis and Junior Harding) for helping him take his training to the next level when they played together at Chipola College.
When asked about his goals for 2020 Osik succinctly states, “I don’t make statistical goals or focus on promotions. I genuinely love playing baseball so I just try and work my hardest and be a good teammate. When I step in between the white lines I just compete as hard as I can and let whatever happens happen.”
Although 27th round draft picks signed to happy meal budget bonuses aren’t the kind of players who typically make it to the show, White Sox fans have multiple reasons to be excited about Osik. He possesses a special bat, high motor, positional flexibility and major league genetics. After all, as a similarly-drafted 24th rounder, Tyler’s father Keith was able to grind his way into a 10-year big league career.
The early results suggest this apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Hot Seat Questions
Favorite baseball movie The Sandlot
Are you a gamer? “I’m a big Call of Duty player, the new one is coming out this month so I’m pumped up for that.”
What are you watching on Netflix these days? Dave Chappelle standup specials.
If the Intimidators locker room turns into a dance battle, who wins? Ramon Beltre or Lenyn Sosa.
If you could have a superpower what would it be? Teleportation, so I could go wherever I want, whenever I want.
You grew up a son of a pro ballplayer, so do you have any cool baseball memorabilia? I have some signed balls from guys like Jim Thome, Pudge [Ivan Rodriguez], [Albert] Pujols, and a signed jersey from Pedro Martinez.
Who are the guys you played with that White Sox fans should be excited about? In the AZL, two guys who stood out were DJ Gladney and Jose Rodriguez. I really like the way they swing the bat with power, as well as how they are super athletic. Once I got to Kannapolis, Alex Destino, Ian Dawkins and Lenyn Sosa really stood out to me. They are great all-around players. They hit, field and play the game hard every day.
What song is the guilty pleasure on your playlist? “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith.
Best part of being a minor league player Getting to travel the country and do what I love every day.
Worst part of being a minor league player Being away from my family and loved ones for several months of the year, which can seem like forever.
Toughest pitcher you faced: Grayson Rodriguez, he had some electric stuff with good command as well.