Marcell Ozuna signed with the Marlins in February 2008, as an 18-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. He spent seven seasons in the minor leagues, where he was pretty good if unspectacular, hitting .276/.336/.492 in a little over 2100 plate appearances. He got called up to the big club in Miami in April 2013, and spent his rookie campaign being mostly unnoticeable for 70 games. His emergence onto the national stage came in 2014, as Ozuna spent the entire season with the major league team and performed admirably, hitting 23 homers with a .285 TAv.
In a way, Ozuna’s struggles in 2015 matched the Marlins’ own turbulent season. He struggled out of the gate amidst rumblings that benevolent hero owner*, Jeffrey Loria (*just kidding) couldn’t stand the outfielder. Ozuna would go on to hit .249 with 4 home runs with an OBP barely above .300 before the All-Star break, earning him a demotion to Triple-A. He raked in New Orleans, rejoined the Marlins in mid-August and was pretty good, slashing .278/.320/.469 the rest of the way.
So everything was cool again, right? Nope. Loria and Ozuna’s agent, Scott Boras, bickered at one another into the offseason and Ozuna was tossed into every trade rumor imaginable. You know, pretty much par for the course in the Marlins organization. It ended up being much ado about nothing, and Ozuna was penciled into the 2016 Opening Day lineup hitting second and playing center field.
What Went Right in 2016
While combing the stats from Ozuna’s three full big league seasons, it’s hard to not hum “One of These Things is Not Like the Other.” His 2016 line is eerily similar to that of his breakthrough 2014 campaign, if only slightly more refined. Ozuna walked a little more last season, he struck out less, and produced an impressive .292 TAv. In a lot of ways, he was back to being a solid, above average major leaguer. No more, no less.
That said, there’s reason to believe that Ozuna has more in the tank. He started the season on an absolute tear, hitting .320/.375/.574 through June 24, smacking 16 dingers in the process. While that date might look like an arbitrary endpoint to highlight Ozuna’s hot start to the season, I can assure you, kind reader, that it’s not. It was on this date that Ozuna suffered a wrist injury which caused him to miss a handful of games, ultimately sapping his production for the rest of the season.
What Went Wrong in 2016
When discussing what went wrong for Ozuna last season, it starts and ends with the injury. As mentioned above, Ozuna suffered a wrist injury in June that lingered for the remainder of the season, robbing the 25-year-old of a potential breakout. After June 24, Ozuna hit .214/.269/.337. If that slashline was a comic book character, it would be Super Terrible. His batted ball profile remained largely consistent, however the power outage cause his HR/FB rate to plummet by nearly 11 percentage points. His BABIP followed suit, scraping the bottom of the barrel at .241 in his final 306 plate appearances, a number particularly bad considering how hard Ozuna can hit the ball.
What to Expect in 2017
If Ozuna didn’t share an outfield with Giancarlo Stanton, his sheer power would probably turn more heads. In 2015, he had the 13th highest average exit velocity among players with at least 300 batted ball events. Even with his second half dip in power, he checked in at number 30 last season, averaging an exit velocity of 91.5 mph, the same as Edwin Encarnacion and Corey Seager.
In addition to his awesome power, Ozuna has slowly improved his plate discipline. He swung at fewer pitches outside the zone, resulting in an 18.9 percent strikeout rate, a number better than league average. He walked in 7.1 percent of his plate appearances, which was the best mark of his career. Sure, that still isn’t great, but it’s at least “meh”, which is much better than “bad”.
Power covers up a lot of weaknesses, and pairing pop with contact is even sweeter. Ozuna’s profile combined with his continued development of his approach at the plate seem to indicate that a breakout is lurking. He tried in 2016, but it’s possible he was a year too early.
The Great Beyond
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A lot of Ozuna’s production depends on health. A balky wrist deprived us of knowing whether Ozuna can be one of the top 30 outfielders in the game, or if he’s just a solid player that had an awesome first half. He’s still just 26 years old, so hopefully he will get the opportunity to settle the debate.
Even with his immense power, it’s possible that Ozuna will never turn into a blue chip fantasy stud. Marlins Park played as the fifth toughest park for right-handed power last season, according to BP’s Park Factors. Barring a trade, he’ll call Miami home at least until 2020, so there’s a chance his true home run totals won’t blossom for several years. He doesn’t run much (read: at all), so most of his value will be tied to batting average and power. Even still, there’s enough there to be a solid contributor, and a full season of a .280ish average with 30 homers isn’t out of the question. At Ozuna’s current draft position (41st OF off the board, according to NFBC ADP), that’s a gamble I’d be willing to take.