Miami Marlins rookie outfielder Marcell Ozuna has caught the eye of a lot of fans, as he has flashed some pretty nice swings and a couple of strong throws from the outfield that have quickly established his defensive reputation. All of those things were found in his scouting reports dating back from before this season. Our own Eric Weston said as much in Ozuna's profile before the season.
But the important thing that also needs to be mentioned is the part regarding Ozuna's plate recognition.
If he cannot reduce his strikeout rate, then he will struggle to get on-base or hit home runs. He has survived so far on fantastic bat speed and raw power, but those skills by themselves are not sufficient against advanced pitching. He needs to apply his skills using discipline and intelligence.
It has only been a few weeks on the job for Ozuna, who was shot up from Double-A thanks to a hot start and Giancarlo Stanton's injury. How has Ozuna's plate discipline fared, and has it affected his game at the plate already?
At first, one thinks the answer is "no," as he is off to a great start so far. Even after tonight's 1-for-3 performance, he is still hitting a cool .298/.333/.474 (.348 wOBA). While he only has one home run thus far, he also has five doubles and a triple en route to a passable .175 ISO. But one look at his strikeouts and walks shows exactly what the Marlins were concerned about even though it is early in his major league time. Ozuna has struck out in just 18.0 percent of his plate appearances, but he has also walked in just 4.9 percent of them.
The whole reasoning is in his plate discipline numbers. Take a look at them compared to resident Mad Hacker Justin Ruggiano.
As you can see, Ozuna shares some traits with the Mad Hacker himself. Both players are quite aggressive in swinging, and both are getting very similar rates of pitches in the zone. Ozuna is more adept at making contact. which is why his strikeout rate is lower than Ruggiano's 26 percent mark, but the fact remains that Ozuna still is struggling to discern ball from strike. His 31 percent out-of-zone swing rate is along the same lines as players like Giancarlo Stanton, Greg Dobbs, and Miguel Olivo on the Marlins. You never want to be on a plate discipline list with Miguel Olivo.
This aggressiveness has resulted in a decently high swing-and-miss rate. Ozuna has swung and missed on 10.3 percent of his total pitches. That would put him in the same category as players like Jeff Francoeur, Cody Ross, and Ryan Doumit last season. None of those players are necessarily attractive in terms of plate discipline, and Ozuna so far has been similar.
Of course, it is still early in Ozuna's career, so we cannot glean much information from this small sample. But the data we have so far matches the description of his skills in scouting reports, so it is safe to say that Ozuna's plate discipline remains a concern.
There is one positive in this number and comparison to Ruggiano. Ruggiano has an issue with aggressiveness and contact, but Ozuna thus far has shown passable contact rates. This means that he does not have the strikeout issue that Ruggiano or Stanton have, in which they make inherently less contact and need to fine-tune selectivity just to be acceptable at the plate. Ozuna at the moment is already fairly acceptable thanks to his ability to put the bat on the ball. Now, if he improves his plate discipline, he can look even better at the plate in terms of reducing his strikeouts to potentially below the league norm.
Combine that upside with his raw power and you can see why Marlins fans are excited. The only question is if and when Ozuna can get there, and the Marlins have thrown him into the deep end to find out.