Osich Faces A Tough Decision

With the West Coast League championship at stake, the Corvallis Knights put the ball in Josh Osich's hands. And, like he had done for most of the summer, the 225-pound lefty from Boise came through.

Lasting on the mound for eight innings, Osich surrendered just one run on three hits. His effort clinched a first-place finish for the Knights and gave the rising sophomore momentum as he returned to Oregon State for the 2009 season.

Osich was confident in his changeup, finally giving him a complement to the fastball that touched 98 mph when he reached back. He was now a pitcher, not just a thrower.

But since going 5-0 at Corvallis, Osich's ascension to Pacific-10 Conference ace took a detour to the trainer's room. Injuries limited him in 2009 and kept him out altogether in 2010.

"He was on the right path and we were super-excited about him," Knights president Dan Segel said. "Unfortunately, injuries have kept him back. Once he gets healthy, I think he'll be a frontline starter in the Pac-10."

That is assuming Osich returns to school. The Angels selected him in the seventh round in June, and while he spends his second consecutive summer rehabbing his pitching elbow, Osich will likely have to decide between a six-figure bonus and the Beavers.

After Osich's summer with Corvallis in 2008, a nerve in his left elbow started rubbing against his bone. He needed surgery, but he delayed the operation until after his sophomore season. He could throw for about three innings before he felt pain, limiting him to the Beavers bullpen.

Once he finally rehabbed after the 2009 season, Osich suffered an even greater setback. During an October game of catch in the Oregon State outfield, he slipped and fell on the same elbow. This time he needed Tommy John surgery.

Since going under the knife Jan. 12, Osich has strengthened his elbow and left shoulder enough to begin playing catch. By mid-July he could throw the ball about 75 feet. Oregon State trainer Josh Therrien will keep throwing with Osich until the pitcher feels comfortable playing catch from about 130 feet.

Osich will then start doing bullpen drills, resting every 10 minutes to simulate what pitching in a game will feel like, before reworking his mechanics with Oregon State pitching coach Nate Yeskie.

Ready To Return

Rehabbing from Tommy John surgery is unique for each person, and the time it takes to bounce back depends on how well Osich feels, his command, his mechanics and his arm strength. Therrien is adamant about not setting a timetable.

But that hasn't stopped Osich from saying he will be back by January.

"Working with every athlete is different and you have to take a different approach," Therrian said. "Some guys you have to push a lot and other guys you have to pull the reins back. Josh is such a workhorse and attacks the weight room with such reckless abandon. I really appreciate it, but at the same time I have to make sure he doesn't get ahead of himself."

Being limited by injuries the past two years has stunted the development of Osich's secondary pitches. He admitted his curveball needs refinement, and while he still feels confident in his changeup, he has pitched just 26 innings since 2008. In fact, he has thrown a total of 51 innings at Oregon State, numbers that look like they belong to a middle reliever, not someone who gets lured away early for a professional contract.

But Osich insists standing on the mound, staring down an opponent in the batter's box with the game on the line is not what he needs. It's much simpler, he says. If he could just throw the ball to a friend, his offspeed pitches would improve.

"The batter doesn't really matter," Osich said. "It's just being able to throw when I'm up there. I'm pretty much playing catch with the catcher. The fact that I haven't had much game action isn't really the problem."

Even without those other pitches, Osich would still be an attractive option out of the bullpen. Southpaws with high-90s velocity are a commodity.

But Oregon State coach Pat Casey said he doesn't think Osich's future is in relief. He would have competed for a starting role with the Beavers the last two seasons if his elbow had been healthy.

"I want to be a starter," Osich said. "That's what all the coaches want from me. I will get there; I just got to wait to get healthy."

For the time being, though, what matters is being healthy. And while he heals, Osich will have plenty of time to think about what he wants. Should he return to Oregon State, where he has experienced a bumpy career? Or should he join the Angels, getting a chance at a big league dream before injuries derail him?

Osich, who was considered a possible first-round pick before his second surgery, said at least one team asked him if he would sign for about $300,000 as a third-round pick this year. He declined that offer but said he will sign with the Angels if their offer is good. Casey Harvie, the area scout who recommended the Angels draft Osich, is accustomed to unusual cases, having signed probable NFL quarterback Jake Locker last summer.

For now, Osich keeps rehabbing. Beavers coach Pat Casey said he is excited to see what the pitcher could do facing an arm like UCLA's Gerrit Cole, but he will wait and try not to worry as the signing deadline looms.

"I don't focus on the MLB draft," Casey said. "I don't like thinking about things I can't control."

Just like Osich has had to do the last two years.