When the Marlins recalled outfielder Marcell Ozuna on April 30, many of us here at Fish Stripes were surprised to say the least. Though Ozuna was one of the best prospects in the system, like fellow big league teammate Jose Fernandez, Ozuna had never spent time above Double-A and still had several areas of his game that would need to be adjusted before anyone felt he was ready for the big leagues. Now, with just over two weeks of major league service time, Marcell Ozuna has already ascended into the cleanup spot of the Marlins' order and is proving himself to be one of the most consistent hitters in the Fish's lineup.
On the day of Ozuna being brought up from Double-A Jacksonville, manager Mike Redmond noted that he hoped Ozuna would "provide a spark" for the club. Even though we're looking at a very limited sample size, a spark is exactly what Ozuna has been able to provide so far for the Fish.
Coming into his 2-for-4 performance against the Phillies on Monday, Ozuna was hitting .299/.338/.463 with one home run and eight RBI. Those numbers will look even better when factoring Monday's game, but even through the first 18 games of his major league career, Ozuna is off to a heck of a start.
What's perhaps most remarkable about the start to Ozuna's big league career is how similar his numbers this season in Double-A reflect what he has been able to produce at the major league level. After mashing five home runs through his first 10 games in Jacksonville this season, it was clear that Ozuna had likely outgrown that, but skipping Triple-A to go straight to the majors is no easy task, particularly for a hitter.
As a power hitter, Ozuna has been especially prone to the strikeout throughout his entire professional career, but believe it or not, his 16.7 percent strikeout rate in the bigs this season is the best of his career by far. Sure, Ozuna's walk rate is also pretty low, but more importantly, he has also stayed away from chasing pitches out of the zone. In fact, Ozuna has swung at just 30 percent of pitches out of the zone this season, which is pretty remarkable when you compare it to the rates of notable free-swingers like Pablo Sandoval (48.4) and Alfonso Soriano (45.9).
Through this limited sample size, it also appears that pitchers are also starting to respect Ozuna's abilities at the plate more than they normally would for a rookie. According to FanGraphs, just 49.4 percent of pitches thrown to Ozuna this season have been fastballs, as pitchers have clearly looked to fool the 22-year-old with offspeed pitches out of the zone, something that he has been able to lay off of to this point. To put the FB% number in perspective, Ozuna's seeing fastballs at close to the same rate as players like Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista, and Bryce Harper.
One thing that could point toward regression in the short term is Ozuna's .352 BABIP. Even when he was raking earlier this season in Jacksonville, he still posted a BABIP of .310. Even if Ozuna were to "fall back to Earth," so to speak, it's clear that the most important improvement of his game has been his approach at the plate and so far that's translating at the big league level, to the surprise of many. More than anything, Ozuna's improvement at cutting down on his strikeouts and free swinging will be what ultimately makes him a permanent fixture in the Marlins' lineup and give him the ability to sustain what he's doing now for the rest of the season. Sure, he's hit just one home run so far, but it's far more encouraging to see a young hitter display his hit tool before he tries to mash baseballs off The Monstrosity.
Once guys like Logan Morrison and Giancarlo Stanton return from injury, the Marlins will have some complicated personnel and lineup decisions to make. One thing that we've learned so far, though, is that the future of Marcell Ozuna is looking brighter by the day and his play during the first two weeks of his major league career has been a pleasant surprise to Fish fans everywhere. Heck, maybe the kid didn't need Triple-A after all.