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Fish Stripes 2014 Marlins Season Preview: Marcell Ozuna

The Miami Marlins will likely turn to Marcell Ozuna to man center field for the Fish in the 2014 season, but can the young prospect hold off the charge from fellow rookie Jake Marisnick?

Chris Trotman

The Miami Marlins seem to be set at most of their position player situations, as the team prepared during the offseason by acquiring stopgap veterans to fill holes in the roster. The outfield did not need to be supplemented however, because the Fish are actually fairly deep in outfield talent. Miami has Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich at guaranteed spots in right and left field respectively. They also have two intriguing young names who could potentially man center field for a long time in Marcell Ozuna and Jake Marisnick. Miami is likely to turn to Ozuna for the start of the season, but can he continue to hold onto the job?

Depth Chart: Center Field

1. Marcell Ozuna/Jake Marisnick
2. Brian Bogusevic

Minor League Depth: Marcell Ozuna/Jake Marisnick, Brent Keys

The premiere position battle in Spring Training is going to be between these two guys early on. Right now, Ozuna holds the lead but could be giving ground away if he continues to struggle at the plate with Marisnick's early hot streak. Still, he remains the slight favorite, and the reason is his 2013 performance. Ozuna hit a fairly unimpressive .265/.303/.389 (.304 wOBA) last season, but that still more than beat out Marisnick's batting line in his short Major League stint. In addition, the Marlins had to be happy that Ozuna was able to show off his defensive chops with decent range and his cannon arm in limited time in center field. While Marisnick is an athletic and rangy defender as well, the fact that Ozuna can hold his own in center field ups his value tremendously.

The arguments against Ozuna this season are pretty clear as well. He has a terrible approach at the plate that was mitigated somewhat by his surprisingly decent contact rate last year. Last season, Ozuna was not sure what to swing at, as he hacked at 35 percent of pitches out of the zone and 50 percent of pitches overall. Hitting coach Frank Menechino is preaching patience at the plate, and that may benefit Ozuna more than anyone else on the current roster. There at least remains some question as to how well Ozuna will hold up after the injuries he suffered last season. Ozuna missed significant time in the minors with a forearm injury and then was put on the shelf for the remainder of the season (59 games) with an thumb injury that required surgery. We have yet to see how the thumb has affected him.

The biggest wild card in Ozuna's performance is his power, and that shows in the projection systems' treatment of him. Ozuna's calling card in the minors was power, but he did not put on it display in 2013. In addition, he hit a surprisingly high number of ground balls (46.2 percent) for a player with a supposedly strong power tool, and Scott Strandberg of RotoGraphs noted that his fly ball distances were low all last season, averaging just around 252 feet. It is unlikely that the 20-homer power he displayed in the minors was just an aspect of low-minors variability, as Ozuna launched five homers in just 47 plate appearances in Double-A last season. It is possible that the team slightly overestimated his power potential however, and that plays a role in his expectations changing going forward.

Steamer 574 .248 .292 .396 .301 1.3
Oliver 600 .253 .290 .370 .290 0.5
ZiPS 463 .255 .299 .431 .318 1.3

The systems all tend to agree on Ozuna's batting average and OBP. The sub-.300 OBP is a result of his terrible expected walk rates; each system guessed that he will walk in less than six percent of his plate appearances, which seems reasonable given his minor league track record. The good news is that his walk rate has trended up while his strikeouts have trended down over the course of his minor league career, indicating that he has made proper adjustments and shown improvement before. If Menechino can get Ozuna to be more patient, perhaps that will add up to a better OBP going forward.

The differcen in power shows the potential for Ozuna's breakout. Oliver seems least happy about his chances of hitting homers, as it has him hitting just eight on the year. ZiPS is most optimistic, with a prediction of 18 homers per 600 plate appearances. The overall average of these three systems yields a rate of 14 homers per 600 plate appearances. That makes him a minor threat at the moment to go deep, less powerful than previous Marlins like Justin Ruggiano, and could make his value at the plate less worthwhile.

The systems also did not see much on his defense overall, grading him as an average center fielder. This is understandable given the small amount of time that he has played, but the Marlins are banking for a more positive contribution and may be expecting more this season.

Overall, the three systems average out to an expected .250/.290/.400 batting line with 1.2 WAR in 600 plate appearances. The Marlins are expected to be getting a bench-quality player in a full season's playing time, but at least those numbers may be better by virtue of improved defense. If Ozuna can be more of a net positive with his arm in center field, the Fish could have a player at least at the cusp of league average in 2014.