Marcell Ozuna has been a revelation for the Miami Marlins in 2013. The Fish are extremely happy to have him playing as well as he has been thus far, hitting .326/.370/.4473 (.366 wOBA). He has racked up hits left and right thus far, as he is already third on the team with 42 hits on the year despite playing a little more than half the time of the two leaders, Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco. He has also been strong in the outfield, showing off a fantastic arm and good range in right field. By all accounts, he has been a success for the Fish.
Well, except for one problem. In the minor leagues, he averaged 25.8 home runs per 600 plate appearances, including consecutive seasons in Low- and High-A in which he hit 24 homers. Ozuna's strongest tool was his well-recognized power, and that is what got him on many of the prospect lists as a 22-year-old outfielder with a career .274 batting average. But so far this season, Ozuna is defying his strikeout rate and batting average, whiffing in a respectable 20.0 percent of his plate appearances and hitting an impressive .336 average. However, he also has defied his power-laden scouting report, as he has only hit one home run thus far this year.
What happened to Marcell Ozuna's so-called power? Thus far in his major league career, it has been absent, and it is difficult to find a reason for it. Former Marlins outfielder and slugger Preston Wilson, now part of the Fox Sports Florida broadcast team, postulated one theory regarding his missing power at the time being. He said that, because pitchers in the majors are more likely to attack Ozuna in the zone, Ozuna has made more solid contact but less home run contact because pitches are in the zone but of better quality.
How does that pan out? One thing to note is that Ozuna is not necessarily getting pounded in the strike zone. Unlike the other Marlins players who are getting attacked in the zone, Ozuna has seen just 49 percent of his pitches go in the strike zone. That is only eighth on the team among players with more than 100 plate appearances. He is seeing the same number of pitches in the zone as guys like Michael Young, Ben Zobrist, and Adrian Beltre, so it is not as though pitchers are disrespecting or taking advantage of Ozuna in the zone. If he were threatening with more power, pitchers might even be more respectful than they already are, especially given Ozuna's 89 percent contact rate in the strike zone.
We know that Ozuna is making contact often, but why is it not traveling for home runs? One thing it could be is that Ozuna is simply falling short on homers and getting doubles instead. He has hit 12 doubles thus far, giving him a 33,3 percent rate of doubles and triples as compared to his total hits. Maybe those hits have been long fly balls that have fallen just short in the cavernous spaces of Marlins Park?
If that were the case, we would see evidence of this in his fly ball distances, but a look in that area also reveals a lack of power. Ozuna's fly balls and homers so far this year have traveled an average distance of just 255 feet. As a comparison, Justin Ruggiano's fly balls traveled an average of 304 feet since last season, and Giancarlo Stanton's mammoth fly balls traveled an average distance of 308 feet in his career. On the lower end, Placido Polanco's fly balls have averaged a distance of just 250 feet, putting Ozuna's fly ball power closer to Polanco than Stanton.
Ozuna has the clear tools to muscle up the ball, as evidenced by his impressive minor league work. That 25-homer pace is supposed to return any time now. But so far this season, he not only has not hit a lot of home runs as expected, especially given his success elsewhere, but he has not even hit his fly balls all that far. So far, Ozuna is not hitting doubles that could turn into homers, but rather fly balls and line drives that do not have much of a shot of leaving the park.
Still, with Ozuna playing well and hitting the ball hard for the most part, the Marlins will live with this. But with his plate discipline lacking, he is going to need the help of his power to generate value.