The Miami Marlins lost a number of outfielders early in the 2013 season, most notably Giancarlo Stanton, to injury. This forced the Marlins to turn to a number of their minor league prospects for Major League assistance. The first player they turned to was the one who resided on the 40-man roster, Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna was playing well in Double-A, but he was only 47 plate appearances into his first stint at the level before the Fish called him up to replace the injured Stanton in the lineup in early May.
The results at the plate were mediocre as expected, but in completely unexpected ways.
Ozuna came into the season with a free-swinging reputation and a powerful bat. In his previous year in High-A Jupiter, he hit 24 home runs, posted a .211 ISO, and struck out in 21.5 percent of his 539 plate appearances. One of those two aspects was very clear in the 2013 season in the majors. Ozuna whiffed in 19.6 percent of his plate appearances and walked in just 4.5 percent of them. If he had qualified, that walk rate would have ranked 127th out of the 140 qualified Major Leaguers in 2013, right alongside players like Howie Kendrick, Nolen Arenado, and Daniel Murphy.
Out of the last 20 players on that qualified players list, the highest wOBA noted was Adam Jones's .350, followed by Torii Hunter's .346 mark. The remaining wOBAs ranged from .247 (Alcides Escobar, the worst qualified hitter in baseball this year) and .344 (Starling Marte). The ceiling on a player with those sort of strikeout and walk numbers is low, and hitting a .350 wOBA may be a reach unless Ozuna displays an above-average BABIP and/or significant power.
He did the former for the first part of his stint in the big leagues. By the end of the first month of his time in the bigs, Ozuna had a .422 BABIP, and his batting line was boosted as a result to an impressive .330/.371/.459 mark at May's close. But the problems in that line are apparent when you consider that, despite a .330 batting average, Ozuna still had just a .363 wOBA. He was not getting on base a lot outside of his hits, and his slugging percentage was not good. Once Ozuna's BABIP started dropping, his batting line quickly fell along with it. In June, he hit .321 on balls in play and batted just .265/..287/.398 (.299 wOBA), and his season line by that point had dropped to .300/.332/.430.
Part of the issue with his line definitely lied in his surprising lack of power. That was previously his calling card to the majors, but he struggled with it in the big leagues for all of 2013. Ozuna hit his first home run of the year in his fifth game, on May 4, but he did not hit another one until his 48th game of the year, a homer-less stretch that saw him hit .279/.316/.376 with an ISO less than .100. He hit only three home runs all season, and his year-end ISO of .124 was a disappointing one for a player who supposedly boasted light-tower power.
One thing that did help his year was his performance in the outfield. Heading into the season, there was question of where Ozuna would play when he eventually arrived in the majors. He was spending his time primarily in right field, but he also played center field in the minors. The team tried him at both spots and he excelled in both positions. In particular, his arm in the outfield was dominant; UZR had him earning more than three runs above average just on gunning down or holding back baserunners. Plays like this one and this one showed Ozuna's cannon arm was worth runs for the Fish.
The defensive play for Ozuna was there, but the offense was simply lacking after a hot start. The Marlins will likely turn to him next year, either right at the start or at some point at midseason, and he will also have players like Jake Marisnick breathing down his neck for competition in a crowded outfield, provided the team keeps Giancarlo Stanton. Ozuna needs to find his power stroke and develop some discipline at the plate to continue to up his offensive game.