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Making sense of Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna

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Miami Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna is one of the top young players in baseball.

Marcell Ozuna
Marcell Ozuna
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna is one of the better-kept secrets in baseball. After a somewhat troublesome 2013 rookie season, he took a large step forward in 2014, hitting .269/.317/.455 with 23 homers, 111 OPS+, 114 wRC+. Adding in his defensive contributions and you end up with 3.7 fWAR this year, 5.3 in one and a half major league career thus far, impressive for a 23-year-old not named Mike Trout.

Here's how he was graded as a prospect, and where he could be going for the future.

The first report filed for Ozuna in the Baseball Prospect Book came in 2010, after a .313/.377/.476 campaign in the Gulf Coast Rookie League:

A Dominican signed in 2007, Ozuna showed significant offensive potential in the 2009 Gulf Coast Rookie League, posting a +34 percent OPS. Note the large number of doubles, some of which could/should become homers as he moves up the ladder. He strikes out a lot and will need to improve his plate discipline, but those are common flaws. He also needs to improve his outfield defense; he has a good arm, suitable for right field, but needs better reads on fly balls. Ozuna hasn’t received much attention yet, but that could change in 2010. Grade C for now, but has promise.

Those home runs came in bunches in 2010; he hit 21 homers in the New York-Penn League, although there were flaws too:

Dominican outfielder Marcell Ozuna dominated the New York-Penn League with his power bat last summer, posting a +26 percent OPS and crushing 21 bombs in a league that’s pitcher-friendly. He also showed the flaws in his approach, with 94 strikeouts in just 68 games. He swings hard at everything, and while he got away with that in the NY-P, pitchers at higher levels will exploit this much more easily. Either he makes some adjustments with his hitting philosophy, or his batting average and OBP are going to drop sharply as he moves up. He has a good throwing arm and runs well enough to play right field, but it is the bat that will make or break his career. I like the upside enough to give him a Grade C+, but I don’t think he is going to coast to success without some changes.

He made those changes in 2011, hitting .266/.330/.482 in Low-A with a lower strikeout rate and improved scouting reports:

Ozuna transitioned well to full- season ball last year, posting a decent +12 percent OPS in the South Atlantic League. He has excellent power potential and above-average speed. . .Ozuna’s main issues are contact and strike zone judgment. He reduced his strikeout rate last year, scouts saying that he improved his reads on breaking balls and changeups. His BB/K/AB ratio is still not ideal, but it is better than it was in 2010. Ozuna isn’t going to be a .300 hitter, but if he can hit .250-.260, his speed, power, and defensive contributions will make him a major league regular. Grade B.

Ozuna hit .266/.328/.476 for High-A Jupiter in 2012. Almost the same as '11, right? Wrong.

On the surface, it looks like Marcell Ozuna’s 2012 season in the Florida State League was virtually identical to his 2011 season in the South Atlantic League. The batting averages are exactly the same, and there was only two points of difference in OBP and six in SLG, which is just statistical noise. However, if you look at the context, his ’12 campaign was actually notably superior: his wRC+ rose from 119 to 127, his OPS+ rose from +12 percent to +15. The FSL is a tough league for power, and the fact that Ozuna actually improved his contextual production is a very good sign for his future. . . although players with strike zone issues usually worry me, for some reason I am optimistic about Ozuna’s ability to adapt. Don’t expect a high batting average, but I bet he continues knocking home runs at a strong clip. Grade B.

Ozuna ended up spending most of '13 in the major leagues, hitting just three homers in 70 games. However, he was essentially jumping directly from A-ball: he had a mere 10 games of Double-A under his belt and no Triple-A at all. Under the circumstances, his '13 wasn't bad at all. And as noted above, '14 was quite good.

Perhaps even better than you think.

Ozuna's Top Ten Sim Scores through age 23 are very interesting, very interesting indeed: Vernon Wells, Roy Sievers, Tommie Agee, Mel Hall, Lastings Milledge, Billy Conigliaro, Sam Chapman, Dayan Viciedo, Shawn Green, and Adam Jones. We don't know how Viciedo and Jones will turn out in the long run, though Jones has certainly developed well, but the rest of the group is intriguing.

Lastings Milledge ended up in Japan, although there were injuries and other issues there. Hall was a good role player but a horrible person. Conigliaro was a famous strange case, who quit his career early (age 25) due to problems with ownership.

More interesting are the others: Vernon Wells became unfortunately famous for being overpaid, but he was a solid player for many years. Roy Sievers isn't directly remembered by anyone younger than 50, but he was a Rookie of the Year, a four-time All-Star, hit 318 homers in a low-offense era, and remained an effective hitter until age 36.

Agee was outstanding until his career ended early due to injuries, running up 25.9 WAR through age 30. It is hard to know what to make of Shawn Green giving the era in which he was playing, but at his peak he was one of the top hitters in the game.

Sam Chapman lost four seasons to the Second World War, ripping the guts out of his career (1942-45, ages 26-29). He was one of the best young players in baseball until going off to war, posting a 144 OPS+ and 5.0 fWAR in 1941. He wasn't the same after he came back, and at the time the feeling was that the career of an excellent player had been short-circuited by circumstances beyond his control.

Of the eight retired players Ozuna compares well with historically, the biggest failures (Milledge and Conigliaro) involved injuries or strange off-field issues. Hall didn't live up to his full potential but was not a failure as a player overall. Agee, Wells, Chapman, Green and Sievers were all excellent at their peaks, All-Star caliber players, though unique circumstances conspired against Agee and Chapman.

Bottom line: assuming he can avoid catastrophic injuries, personal problems, and world wars, there's every reason for optimism with Marcell Ozuna.

Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna, photo by El Nuevo Herald, via Getty Images