Ever since he crushed 21 bombs as a 19-year-old in short season A ball, Marcell Ozuna has been a legit power prospect in the Marlins’ farm system. His swing can be best described as hard, bringing that bat through the hitting zone with serious torque, ready to launch anything that gets in its way. And understandably, Marlins fans and fans of the sport alike were all excited to see what he could do with a little seasoning on his way to the Bigs.
He had an underwhelming rookie season, hitting just three homers in a half-seasons worth of plate appearances, and the contact wasn’t much better as he managed a 91 wRC+. Strikeout rates that had plagued him in the minors didn’t seem to follow, which was good, but the results were unimpressive.
The sophomore year was where Ozuna really started to get some attention. He hit 23 homers over 153 games with a 115 wRC+, establishing himself as a dominant young power hitter. The strikeouts had come back by this point, a worrisome rate of 26.8%, but who really cares when you crush like Ozuna was?
Well, last year the strikeouts carried but the power stayed back in 2014. He hit only ten homers, with a below average .124 isolated slugging mark. He did actually cut down slightly on his strikeouts, but the rate was too high for him to be successful with his limited power.
And that brings us to this year, where Marcell Ozuna is establishing himself as an elite bat, once again. The strikeouts are at a much more manageable 20.4%, but the power is enough to make any fantasy owner salivate; 10 bombs already with a .246 isolated slugging. So now the question looms, is it legit?
Let’s start by breaking down his swing mechanics. What is amazing about his swing is how quickly he’s able to get his hands down and through the zone, with very little weight transfer despite the power numbers. He keeps his front foot up longer throughout the pitching motion, and while this is certainly unusual, it allows him to properly adjust to off-speed pitches. He doesn’t bring the bat back very far in his windup, but he does start with it above his shoulders, allowing a simple arc through the contact zone. This is generally reserved for the stronger hitters who need less involvement from the rest of the body while sacrificing for quickness like this, and Ozuna certainly fits the bill.
Part of what hurt Ozuna last year was a weird regression on effectiveness against fastballs, and a weakness on sliders. What we’ve seen so far is him returning to form on the heaters, creating 13.6 runs above average already, as well as a much less floundering attempt to hit the sliders. He’s still 1.4 runs below average on them, but considering he ended last year at 10.5 runs below, we will count this as a success for now.
Look at some heatmaps on his whiff rates from last year and the current year, and we can start to understand where the improvement is coming:
While some of the areas don’t look like there is much improvement (exceptionally high numbers are almost all small sample bias, as these exist only in areas where he doesn’t see many pitches. The areas we will focus on have enough size to be significant), there is plenty of improvement in the middle of the strike zone to do more than just raise an eyebrow. He’s cut down significantly on whiffs all across the gut of the zone, which has allowed him to have not just more contact, but to be able to tap into power more often.
His new approach can also be seen a little more objectively with batted ball data. His 48.1% grounder rate in 2015 was simply way too much for a power hitter to actually produce like one. This year we’ve seen him lower it back to 44.7%, a much better mark, while also cranking his fly ball percentage to a career high 36.8%. When he’s hitting more fly balls, his HR/FB ratio sits in the high teens, as also seen this year by a 17.9% rate. Sometimes power flukes can be caught by an abnormal HR/FB but Ozuna’s is in line with his career rates, when a few factors are considered.
Marcell Ozuna has been a frustrating player to watch, and especially own, since he’s had so many valleys and peaks in his production over his short career. But everyone knows that the talent does exist for him to be legit, and this year he’s finally putting the tools together to show the league something special. Ozuna is as powerful as you can expect, showing top 30 power already and even some chances to grow into more.
Don’t be scared by the early career ups and downs; he fixed his game and is ready to tear the league up.
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