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2014 Marlins Key Questions: Marcell Ozuna in center field

The Miami Marlins have two center fielders in the running for the Opening Day job, and Marcell Ozuna is the current frontrunner. How will he handle the position in his second year?


Editor's note: Remember when I said that we'd have some radio silence? I got in early enough to my hotel to provide some content, including some Hall of Fame discussion for later today.

The Miami Marlins have nine important questions to answer in 2014 according to Joe Frisaro of The next important question involves a position that was once barren for Miami and now has options galore. The Fish had been looking for a true center fielder since Cody Ross's departure in 2010, but the team was never as close as it was to getting one than last season. After an injury to Giancarlo Stanton forced the team to promote prospect Marcell Ozuna after just 47 plate appearances in Double-A, the franchise got to see a little of what it had in the prospect cupboard. But after struggling at the tail end of his Major League time and suffering a season-ending thumb injury, Ozuna still has questions surrounding him.

Here's what Frisaro had to say about him.

6. How will Marcell Ozuna handle center? Full of energy and enthusiasm, Ozuna made an immediate impact after he was called up from Double-A in late April. Initially, he was brought in to take over in right field after Stanton hurt his hamstring. Like many rookies, Ozuna had his struggles. On the day he was set to be optioned back to Jacksonville, he sustained a left thumb injury that required season-ending surgery. Heading into Spring Training, Ozuna is the frontrunner to be the starting center fielder. Ideally, he may be suited to play a corner outfield spot. But he's been playing center in winter ball in the Dominican Republic, and his thumb seems to be fine.

I'm not understanding the question, really. How will Ozuna handle center field as a starting position player? Well, his offensive game is still raw. Ozuna failed to show the power in the majors that made him an interesting prospect in the minors. He hit 23 and 24 home runs in 2011 and 2012 respectively, but only mustered three in 291 plate appearances in the bigs last year. Once the well dried out on the BABIP, the batting line fell without any power behind it.

Ozuna will have to work hard at the plate next year to combine that vaunted power with the rest of the skills he showed last season. The one benefit that was evident was that his strikeout rate was at least not astronomical as expected. Ozuna's strikeouts had been falling in each of the last two minor league seasons, down to a respectable 21.5 percent in High-A. That rate dipped to just 19.0 percent in the majors, which is a great boon to Ozuna. If and when the power arrives, the strikeouts that were once the scariest part of his game may not sink his batting line.

But next year, it is not likely that it will all come together for Ozuna offensively. Steamer projects an acceptable 19.8 percent strikeout rate and .282 BABIP along with a .156 ISO, all reasonable numbers for him that hover close to his work from last season. Even with the power improvement (expected to hit 15 home runs in 559 plate appearances), his line is only a paltry .249/.296/.405 (.306 wOBA). His shifty plate discipline, always a problem in the minors, is expected to continue in his second big league year and should sink his OBP.

But the offensive questions were well known. Whether Ozuna can handle center field defensively, on the other hand, probably should not be questioned. Last season, Ozuna put up likely the best individual defensive season on the Marlins. By UZR, Ozuna recorded 10 runs above average last year. DRS believes his work in right field was suspect, but it still rated him two runs better than average overall split between right and center field. In the minors, Ozuna was known mostly for his cannon arm, but last season he showed a good deal of athleticism that made it seem as though he could handle the position long-term. Jake Marisnick is the better long-term option defensively, and Ozuna's arm does fit quite well in right field, where it is maximized. But Ozuna's play last season should leave the Marlins more confident than they could have expected.

It is important to remember that Ozuna never got to play the Double-A level for a full season. Much like Jose Fernandez, the Fish threw him into the fire last year, and he did the best he could and held his own. If his defense continues to play decently in the majors, the Fish will have another athletic outfield option in their arsenal in case of Giancarlo Stanton emergency.