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Marcell Ozuna brings missing power to Marlins lineup

Sure, the Miami Marlins have Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup, but in Marcell Ozuna, they have a second piece of power hitting that they have been missing since 2011.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a rough few seasons offensively for the Miami Marlins. From 2012 to 2013, the Fish ranked dead last in non-pitcher hitting, with a wRC+ of 84. That means that the Marlins' non-pitchers have hit 16 percent below the league average as a group, and that includes great batting performances from Giancarlo Stanton. So it has been a refreshing thing to see the Fish back in the middle of the pack offensively in 2014, ranking a solid 15th in the majors in the same category.

A lot of that has to do with Stanton's monster campaign, as he makes his march on 40 home runs and another Marlins record. But for the first time since 2011, some of it has to do with somebody else. Last night, as Stanton tied a career Marlins record in home runs, Marcell Ozuna quietly hit his 20th home run of the season. This seems like a rather innocuous accomplishment, except that it has been extremely rare in Miami for some time. Aside from Stanton, the Marlins had not had a 20-homer season from another player since 2011, when Logan Morrison hit 23 homers in his only good season in the majors. It has been two whole years and change since another player broke that power mark, and it happened to a player the Marlins expected to put up some numbers.

Last year, Ozuna made his Marlins debut, and it was a fairly impressive one at that. He showed the capability to play an excellent center field, impressed with his cannon arm, and displayed the ability to handle Major League pitching. Through 291 plate appearances, he batted .265/.303/.389 (.304 wOBA). The batting line did not seem farfetched for a player who struggled with strikeouts and plate discipline, but it was missing his offensive calling card. Ozuna had hit 23 home runs in Low-A Greensboro in 2011, and he followed that up with a full season in the pitcher's haven of Roger Dean Stadium in which he hit 24 home runs. Ozuna's claim to fame had always been his excellent power potential. Here's what Baseball Prospectus had to say in the 2013 Annual.

Doubt Ozuna’s pop at your own peril. The 21-year-old isn’t exactly the second coming of Giancarlo Stanton, but he paced the pitcher-friendly Florida State League with 24 home runs and ranked fourth in the circuit in slugging. Ozuna is a prototypical right fielder, with light-tower power and a plus arm.

But in 2013, Ozuna hit just three homers in the majors. He hit more home runs in 47 measly Double-A plate appearances (five) than he did in 291 Major League chances. The concerns about his power were definitely there. Ozuna displayed a decent contact rate that year, but it was liable to fall at any time given his minor league reputation. He needed homers to survive.

This year, Ozuna has presumably made some adjustments. His fly ball rate does not appear to be any higher, but his 20 homers left his home run per fly ball rate looking more like a slugger. And his fly ball distances have reflected that; Ozuna has hit his fly balls an average of 31 feet further this year than last season, according to data provided from Baseball Heat Maps. Ozuna is doing everything else the same, with a similar distribution of batted balls and a similar number of popups this year compared to last season. He has just driven balls harder.

Where are the biggest differences in terms of batted ball distribution? If you look at Ozuna's spray charts from this year and last year, it is hard to tell. Here is his 2013 chart.


Source: FanGraphs

Here it is from 2014.


Source: FanGraphs

The biggest distribution changes appear to be up the middle in the shallow part of center field and, well, in the home run department. He appears to have hit just more balls into the deepest part of the field, having not really lost any of the rest of his game from last season. It looks just like a flat increase in power to all fields.

Ozuna still has plenty of work ahead of him as a starting center fielder. He has struck out in 27.1 percent of plate appearances this year, and that may have to improve in order to remove some of the ceiling on his play. But Miami is thankful for the injection of home run power to this previously pop-less team, Stanton notwithstanding.