The Miami Marlins are counting on stabilizing some of their position player slots in 2014 with important prospects at various places. The Fish have the luxury of one of those positions being covered potentially by two different players. The last time Miami fielded a competent, above-average player at center field for the majority of the season, the team had someone named Cody Ross, and they let him leave for the San Francisco Giants for nothing. During that time and since then, Miami has suffered through failed prospects and ugly attempts at settling the position without much resolution.
Now, the Marlins have two prospects who could take over the center field position on a permanent basis. Marcell Ozuna is a right fielder by trade but the Fish saw enough good from him last year that the team could turn to him as the center fielder of the future. Ozuna holds some promise at the plate and appears to be a significantly better defender than previously thought, in particular in center field. Could he be the future in center that players like Cameron Maybin and Emilio Bonifacio failed to be in the past?
Why is Ozuna a Key to Success?
Ozuna is a prominent member of the future of this roster for two reasons. The more immediate one is that his development could lead to the center field position being resolved for the future. Ozuna proved last season that he is defensively ready to handle the wide ranges of center field in Marlins Park, and the scouting report on him always included good things to say about his cannon arm. Now that the team knows he can manage in center field, the attention can turn to his offense, where he is raw but has a tantalizing power tool. Given the fact that the Marlins have been bereft of power on their roster and have been looking for help there, having a player with 60-plus grade power in the developmental system is a boon for the organization.
Ozuna's offensive and defensive development are important, but his most important role may not even be at the position he will play next season. Ozuna holds special importance because of the Marlins' uncertain situation in right field. Since Miami failed to re-sign Giancarlo Stanton to a long-term extension, his future with the team is in grave doubt. It is unlikely to happen in the 2014 season, but the Marlins and Stanton are headed toward a permanent breakup via trade in the next two years. If that is the case, the Marlins will need to fill his shoes somehow, in both the outfield and power departments. Ozuna at his best is by no means Giancarlo Stanton, but Miami would at least have a ready replacement who is Major League-capable if Stanton is to leave. The Fish entered this season with three outfield prospects of note, and it is increasingly looking like, by 2015, they might need all three to play for them at once.
Ozuna may be an interesting offensive player, but he is by no means a complete one. His one major tool is power, but his lack of other tools is a concern going forward. As he displayed last year, he shows no propensity to take pitches and earn walks, and while he has improved on his contact rates and is not close to Stanton-level in the strikeout department, he still whiffs enough to make his on-base percentage a concern. No matter how well the slugging percentage goes for Ozuna, a .300 OBP would be a difficult obstacle on the way to being a regular and valuable contributor to the offense.
But that would be more of a concern if the Marlins had even seen any of the power that Ozuna was advertising. He was given ample opportunity in 2013 and hit only three home runs, only one of which was particularly impressive. The power that he was supposed to display looked missing, as Ozuna only racked up a .124 ISO on the year, a mark worse than guys like Leonys Martin, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Daniel Murphy. Without power, the rest of Ozuna's game on offense would be highly exposed, and that could prove to be the biggest obstacle of them all.
Marcell Ozuna is expected to be the frontrunner for the center field position for Miami this upcoming season, meaning he will at least get a chance to open the year as a full-time player. The likely results seem as difficult to predict as any other player on the Marlins' roster; the odds that Ozuna repeats a potentially Gold Glove performance in center field or hits just three homers again after displaying 20-homer power in the minors are both low, but the fact that they happened last year make them possibilities this season. Ozuna is a blank slate for Marlins fans, and only one other player, the next one on this Keys to Success list, could be more open to interpretation for this upcoming campaign.