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Saturday June 25th

How Alberto Osuna went from a JUCO prospect to UNC baseball's top slugger

Designated hitter Alberto Osuna (23) hits a foul ball during a baseball game against North Carolina A&T. UNC lost 6-7 at home on Tuesday, April 12, 2022.
Buy Photos Designated hitter Alberto Osuna (23) hits a foul ball during a baseball game against North Carolina A&T. UNC lost 6-7 at home on Tuesday, April 12, 2022.

After a grueling tryout in the seventh grade, Alberto Osuna anxiously waited for his middle school baseball team's roster to be released.

Excited and nervous all at once, announcement day soon came for Osuna. Scanning up and down — and up once more — Osuna frantically searched for his name to appear on the list amongst a jumble of teenage boys.

His name wasn’t there.

“I was pretty chubby, and I could never hit a home run,” Osuna said. “So I got cut from my seventh-grade team.”

Yet for Osuna, UNC baseball’s sophomore designated hitter, his family ties and love for the sport were too strong to let that moment define — or end — his baseball career.

Family oriented

“My mom is from Mexico, and where she’s from, baseball is huge,” Osuna said.

His mother, Anna Sachez de Osuna, pushed for both of her sons to play the sport, enrolling Osuna and older brother Ramon on T-ball teams from a young age. 

During his early teenage years, Osuna was plumply built and, at first glance, parents and teammates alike assumed that the Mauldin, S.C. native was a natural slugger. But when UNC’s team leader in home runs stepped up to the plate in his early years, Osuna struggled to chip hits to the outfield grass.

“When I was little, I was the furthest thing from a power hitter,” he said. 

Around the same time Osuna was cut from his first school team, Ramon was enrolling at Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tenn. to play collegiate baseball. 

Totaling 10 NJCAA World Series Appearances, Walters State head coach David Shelton has built one of the more established junior college baseball programs in the country. As a young Osuna traveled to see his big brother play, he quickly learned the ins and outs of college baseball.

Being around the Walters State program, and taking his recent failure into account, Osuna knew he needed to change in order to follow in the footsteps of his brother.

‘Addict to the weight room’ 

In the weight room, Osuna saw his baseball dreams become a reality, as he slowly transformed himself into the forceful hitter everyone presumed him to be.

“I love working out,” he said. “Sometimes to the point where I enjoy being in the weight room more than playing baseball.”

Osuna’s work in the gym paid off as he became a two-time varsity letter for Mauldin High’s baseball team and earned 5A All-State recognition as a senior in 2019. 

Yet, the accolades for Osuna didn’t translate to much high-major college attention. 

“I only had five offers, and they were all from junior colleges,” he said.

One of those offers came from Walters State, where Ramon was fresh off an established career with the Senators that propelled him to a 14th round selection in the MLB Draft.

“I knew right away I wanted to go there,” Osuna said. “I committed in two days.”

Osuna's first year of college baseball in 2020 was shortened because of the global pandemic. In the limited action he saw, Osuna struggled — tallying 11 hits and one home run in 19 games. 

That offseason, Osuna returned to the same place that helped elevate his game back when he was just 13 years old.

“He became an addict to the weight room,” Shelton said. “He practically lived there.” 

That summer, Osuna’s squat and deadlift maximums surpassed 500 and 600 pounds, respectively.

With newfound strength and confidence built over this extended summer, Osuna was primed for a breakout season.

‘I couldn’t believe it’

After a nearly nine-month break, Walters State returned to the diamond. From the first pitch, Osuna made sure his name was known. 

In the Senator’s first five outings, Osuna launched four bombs and drove in 16 runs.

“It was noticeable how much harder he was hitting the ball,” Shelton said. “Everyone expected him to get a hit every at-bat.” 

And although Osuna didn't record a hit every at-bat, it was shockingly close to the majority of them, as he hovered over a .450 batting average for most of his sophomore year. Osuna broke Walters State's single-season records for hits and RBIs, and he was named the NJCAA Division I Player of the Year.

“When I saw I had won it, I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

But award voters weren’t the only ones taking notice of Osuna’s historic season. 

Numerous Division I coaches began reaching out to him, including North Carolina head coach Scott Forbes. 

“We couldn’t ignore the power and the numbers,” Forbes said. “We needed a middle-of-the-order production guy and he fit that mold.” 

In February 2021, Osuna officially committed to Forbes and the Diamond Heels, where he hoped to become the power hitter that North Carolina was searching for.

‘Get into elite category’

When Osuna first stepped foot on campus at North Carolina, it was a whole new atmosphere.

The Carolina blue locker room, top-tier amenities within Boshamer Stadium and the walks around campus — it was all very different for someone who had just transferred from a school with fewer than 7,000 students.

“The campus I was at before might have been the size of Boshamer,” he said. “Everyday when I see those cages and the locker room, I have a moment like, ‘Gosh, this is awesome.’” 

As Osuna tried to adjust to his new life off the field, he struggled at the plate. 

In his first 27 games at the designated hitter spot, the once sure-handed Osuna regularly misfired, batting below .250 and hitting just seven home runs. The cold streak prompted Forbes to take Osuna out of the lineup entirely against Virginia Tech in early April, but Forbes knew his prized transfer would respond well. 

“He’s very level-headed,” Forbes said. “His confidence never went away. He just needed to adjust.” 

And Osuna responded to his coach’s decision. 

In North Carolina's next series against Louisville, he hammered three long shots while driving in 10 total runs for the Diamond Heels.

Yet, it's not just the fact that Osuna hits home runs, but it's how he does it — searing missiles that sky high over the outfield wall. For Forbes, who’s now in his 21st season at North Carolina, Osuna’s power has a clear standing on his all-time list. 

"Just raw power, he ranks in the top five for sure,” he said. “He can hit the ball out anywhere.”

However, Osuna likely hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he’s capable of.

Sure, he leads the team in home runs with 16, and is two shy from being fifth all-time for homers in a single season at UNC. Yet, Osuna isn’t batting at the efficient clip he wants to, sitting around .260, and he's second on the team in strikeouts.

But as someone who was once a kid that couldn’t even hit the ball to the outfield, Osuna has now cemented himself as the Diamond Heels’ power hitter for the near future — a future Forbes believes is limitless.

“He’s still becoming a better hitter,” Forbes said. “He can really get into that elite category.”

@evanr0gers

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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