By: Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.READ MORE: Police: Man Stabbed In Head With Machete After Argument At Walmart In Kearny, N.J.
Marcell Ozuna, Outfielder, Miami Marlins
2014 season (Majors): 153 G, 565 AB, .269 BA, 23 HR, 85 RBI, 3 SB, .772 OPS
It’s not often a 23-year-old marches into the Major Leagues and puts up the numbers Marcell Ozuna did in 2014. And it’s even rarer to see it happen with little to no fanfare around the baseball world. You can blame the relative obscurity of a 77-win Miami Marlins team, but that doesn’t change the fact that Ozuna is one of the more talented young outfielders in the game and should continue to blossom in an improved lineup in 2015.READ MORE: Some Real Estate Agents Report Surge Of New Yorkers Moving From Manhattan To The Bronx
Believe it or not, Ozuna wasn’t a rookie in 2014, as he exceeded his limits with 70 games in ‘13. Ozuna had hit at least 21 home runs in three straight seasons in the Minor Leagues leading up to his rookie year, so when he managed just three in the bigs in ‘13 there was some concern. But his power was sapped by a lingering wrist injury, and that became clear when he was healthy last season and once again reached the 20-homer mark, this time in the Majors.
A career .274 hitter in the Minors, Ozuna managed a solid .269 average before his season ended abruptly with a right ankle sprain. Now fully healthy, there’s no reason Ozuna can’t take another step and drive in even more runs this season. While they lost Casey McGehee (who drove in 74 runs for the club last year), the Marlins re-signed superstar slugger Giancarlo Stanton to a mega-deal and also added the power potential of Michael Morse, the speed of Dee Gordon at the top of the lineup and the consistent bat of Martin Prado. With plate-setters Gordon and Christian Yelich at the top of the lineup, Ozuna — likely slated to hit fifth in the order behind Stanton and Morse most of the time — should see plenty of RBI opportunities while also getting more protection with Prado’s bat behind him.
Ozuna could see a regression in average if he doesn’t cut down on his 26.8 K-rate, especially since he had a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .337. But Ozuna had a consistently high BABIP throughout the Minors, so even if there is a dip, it shouldn’t be too stark. He doesn’t offer much speed, reaching double-digits in steals in just one outlier of a season in 2011 when he stole 17. Other than that year, he’s never stolen more than eight bases in a year at any level and has just eight steals in 223 big league games. But his job in the middle of the order is mostly to drive in runs, something he’s shown he can do. Steamer projections offer more of the same from Ozuna this year with just a small decrease in average, and it is quite possible that he’s reached his ceiling, but at just 24 years old, there is still potential here.
In the outfield, Ozuna has room for improvement but boasts a strong arm (10 outfield assists in 2014) and is already plenty adequate in center field. With Yelich in left and Stanton in right, the Marlins have one of the more impressive young outfields in the league. While there’s room for improvement, the Marlins really just need Ozuna to provide more of the same in ‘15 to help push them up the standings with an eye on the Wild Card in what should be a very competitive National League East.MORE NEWS: Reopenings Continue On Broadway As 'Moulin Rouge! The Musical' Resumes Performances
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.