Opening day came and went just five months ago as the Dirtbags witnessed a dazzling debut from a relatively unknown left-handed junior transfer named Graham Osman.
“If you can give us five or six, you know, opening night, that’s good,” said former head coach Eric Valenzuela after the game on February 17. ”So for him to give us seven opening night, one hit, one walk and 75 pitches is perfect.”
At the end of the season, Osman alongside his battery mate Connor Burns that night and every game in 2023 had their names selected in the 2023 MLB draft by the Cincinnati Reds.
It was never a question of if Burns’s name would be called, only when. The junior catcher was a standout at Long Beach earning the distinction of best defensive catcher on the west coast at the very least. He finished his collegiate career by earning both the Big West Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons and a semifinalist spot for the Buster Posey award.
Burns, drafted the highest amongst a trio of Dirtbag draftees came off the board at pick 141 in the fifth round, before being joined by Osman and junior first baseman Jonathon Long.
“After the draft happened, the Reds called me and was like, ‘Hey, buddy, like, you know, how’s it going? Congrats, like, we’re really happy to have you,’” Burns said. “It’s nice that everything that you’ve worked for ever since I was young. And thinking about this one day, like, finally, this is the first steps to really starting all that future.”
Having just come off his best collegiate season at the plate. it wasn’t a surprise to see Burns rise up the draft boards, though day one felt like a long shot even from his own point of view. Landing in Cincinnati gives him an opportunity to make a name for himself with one of baseball’s youngest and most exciting franchises. And one where he already has a connection that he can’t know much better than Osman.
It wasn’t as straightforward for Osman who never settled in at Arizona State before transferring to Long Beach at the beginning of the 2023 season. Through three seasons there, the southpaw made 59 appearances and just two starts posting an ERA of 6.81 and really struggled in 2022.
“Not too long into his past where he didn’t feel like he was having success and you know, maybe even questioning his worth and his value and how good he really might be,” interim head coach Bryan Peters said. “To be able to get to this moment to where he does get rewarded. And he gets to fulfill his dream of playing pro ball is awesome. He really really deserved it. And we’re happy to be a small piece in his journey that might have been able to get him to this point.”
The Dirtbags gave Osman a second chance, one he took with authority and forced Valenzuela to pencil him in as the No. 2 guy in the rotation. While it was up and down, the potential shined as he put together three separate starts of six or more scoreless innings by the end of a season that his ERA sat at 4.60 after 15 games started.
“Ever since the first outing, against Wichita State, I’ve been really proud of what he’s been able to do, and how he’s been able to, you know, kind of break that past and be able to experience like this new character that he’s in,” Burns said. “I know at ASU that’s what he wanted to be, but that’s what he really got to do here.”
The duo will look to have a reunion in rookie ball, where one will catch the other as they did across so many nights on Bohl Diamond at Blair Field last season. This time on the backs of a new dream one they worked so hard for already, and one they can both only hope ends with making the majors.
“If they all end up in that destination then I don’t think anything could be cooler,” Peters said. “And hopefully they all do get to the big leagues.”