With the Marlins’ traditional fire sale well underway, the most recent casualty is Marcell Ozuna. Just turning 27 last month, the well hyped prospect finally put it all together in 2017 for one of the best seasons in the majors offensively, with a 142 wRC+, powered by 37 homers with a more than consistent .312 batting average.
It can be tough to make headlines down in Miami for players not named Giancarlo, a small market made smaller by ownership without any recent playoff success to interest the casual fans. But Ozuna is well worth the headlines you’ll be seeing now, as he moves to play in front of the Best Fans in Baseball.
Prospects do not always hit the ground running, and even some of the ones who do still need a few extra seasons to actually reach the star potential they possess. Ozuna was a well documented power prospect, slugging for over .200 Isolated Slugging at every level of the minors, and only playing 10 games in Double-A ball before reaching the majors.
Of course, this was probably one of the worst things management could have done for the young Ozuna, as he struggled heavily to find his power stroke, going deep just 3 times in 70 games. No doubt the immediate success Jose Fernandez had after being called up to the show despite only playing High-A ball played a role, but hitting is a much different beast, and Ozuna’s rookie struggles reflected that.
To Ozuna’s credit, he went deep 23 times with a 116 wRC+ in his sophomore campaign. The next two seasons saw Ozuna have a power slump until recreating his homer total, while struggling to make consistent contact. Still, he was a major league hitter with power upside, a valuable piece nonetheless.
Ozuna’s success in 2016 was tied in part to a decrease in grounders and ramping up his fly ball usage, but in 2017 we saw those numbers revert back to 2015’s mark, where he only hit 10 bombs. While Ozuna is a decently lucky hitter (.315 BABIP before 2017) his .355 mark last year is awfully high, meaning his average is a little hollow.
He was hitting more home runs thanks to a more all out approach, shown by his increase in strikeout percentage from 18.9% to 21.2%. He swung hard, and often, increasing his chase rate from 32.6% to 35.2%, his zone swing rate from 65.0% to 69.1%, and overall an increase from 47.0% to 49.3%. His contact rate overall was stagnant, but weirdly he lowered his zone contact and increased his chase contact. Generally this is a bad recipe, meaning he’s putting poor pitches into play (the chase contact) and would indicate a low BABIP, which lends more credence to the idea his batting average is artificially inflated.
His contact is not something we can expect to persist given his current approach, but the power still is legit. His hard contact rate is on a three-year increase, from 34.5% to 37.4% to 39.1% in 2017. His 23.4% HR/FB rate is almost double his career average, but its not completely unsustainable. It was the 15th highest in the league, bookended by Mark Reynolds and Mike Trout. While that’s quite the polar opposite comparison, it also shows that Ozuna can maintain that number heading forward.
As with many power hitters, Ozuna thrives on smashing heaters, and he was worth 18.1 runs above average on the four seam fastball last year. It helped that pitchers gave him more to hit, from him seeing the pitch 29.9% of the time to 33.3% last year – something that might go down next year. But Ozuna is also excellent on sliders (worth 13.3 runs above average) and was good against curveballs (4.7 runs above average), so even if pitchers try to mix up the repertoire he still can adjust to the new look.
Marcell Ozuna is a fascinating ballplayer with a unique career curve. He spent very little time in the minor leagues, has had up and down success with an absolutely phenomenal year in 2017, and now is heading to one of the centers of the baseball world in St. Louis. If you’re expecting him to continue to be a .300 hitter, you’re going to be disappointed unless he changes something with his approach. He’s geared for power, and is going to once again push close to 40 homers in 2018.
But, and there’s always a but, the contact could fall through completely, leaving him extremely one-dimensional, and almost a borderline starter. Fortunately with the game heading towards homers with less concern about strikeouts, Ozuna is going to be given every chance to succeed. If he falls and you need power in your lineup, he is the guy to target. But don’t reach for him unless you’re a founding member of an Adam Dunn fan club.
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