The Miami Marlins have the best outfield in baseball, anchored by three young names not yet hitting the primes of their career. Giancarlo Stanton is the superstar talent with the record contract. Christian Yelich is the top prospect with the sweet swing and the balanced approach. Marcell Ozuna brings a completely different game to the table. Ozuna is a key to the Marlins' success in this upcoming season in part because his development could go in either direction. Unlike Yelich, who has his stable plate approach to fall back on, Ozuna is a wild card in terms of performance and could very well slip or, as ESPN Insider's Tony Blengino thinks, excel in the deep confines of Marlins Park.
So which will it be this 2015 season?
1. Marcell Ozuna
2. Ichiro Suzuki
Minor League Depth: Austin Wates
The Marlins will look for Ozuna to handle center field duties again this upcoming year and make some adjustments at the plate. His approach with the bat primarily involves swinging at what he believes to be strikes; these are not always the case. Ozuna's 33 percent swing rate on out-of-zone pitches was the third-highest on the team among players with at least 200 plate appearances, while his 62 percent in-zone swing rate was seventh out of ten players. This shows us that Ozuna still has some pitch recognition problems that need to be addressed.
Ozuna simply is not a contact hitter, so swinging more often for him may lead to bad things. This is especially true out of the strike zone, as his 50 percent contact rate out of the zone was tied with Giancarlo Stanton and ahead of only Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Those two are notorious hackers and guys who struggle with the strikeout, and Ozuna appears to be headed in that direction. The difference is that both Stanton and Saltalamacchia adjusted and took enough pitches to walk often and offset those strikeout issues. Ozuna has walked in just six percent of his chances at the plate. The combination of his difficulty with the zone and pitchers' interest in still attacking him in the strike zone have made walking a difficult proposition.
But when Ozuna does make contact, the ball sure can travel. He had among the best fly ball distances on the Marlins last season and he posted 23 home runs, which is the largest amount by a non-Stanton performer since 2011. Ozuna's power finally came around in 2014, and the Marlins are hoping it sticks around going into 2015 and beyond, because the roster is relatively light on that type of production. Last year's .186 ISO was the fifth-highest ISO put up by a qualified Marlin since 2010. Ozuna is one of the few people with the capability of hitting it out of Marlins Park regularly, and with his lack of walks and subsequent high number of outs, he will need all the power production he can get.
Ozuna's challenge will also come on the defensive end. He was permanently moved to center field last season after spending most of his minor league career patrolling right field. With Stanton on board, Ozuna was forced to work the harder, more demanding up-the-middle spot and seemed to excel. He gained notoriety for a having a terrific throwing arm, and he showed that off with 10 outfield assists last year. Briefly, the Marlins considered keeping him in left field and moving Christian Yelich to center, but the Fish thought it wiser to have the stronger arm in the more demanding spot.
Depending on what system you ask, Ozuna played either about average or extremely well last season defensively. He certainly passes the eye test as well, which makes it likely that he is at least approach being an above-average center fielder. Like Yelich, he has the athleticism to approach balls smoothly, but he also tacks on that killer arm for a huge additional edge.
ZiPS and Steamer are essentially in agreement with Ozuna's ability at the plate. The systems expect a very small regression to the mean in his overall performance, with a continuation of his display of power. Steamer sees a repeat of Ozuna's 23-homer effort from last year, while ZiPS puts him at 19 home runs in less playing time. PECOTA seems 19 homers as well, but an overall decrease in rate and power, leading to a slightly worse batting line. Overall, the three systems have Ozuna at .257/.305/.437, which should translate to about a .325 wOBA.
The defensive question is still there, but after a solid year at center field, we should be fairly confident that Ozuna is at least average at the position. With his superb arm, you would expect a bit of an edge overall. I would be comfortable with a three-run defender estimate for Ozuna for a full season, reflecting average or slightly less range and an above average rating for his arm. This is not unlike what he did all of last year by UZR.
Add all of these things up and you end up with a decently above-average talent. In an estimated 600 plate appearances, this kind of performance may yield a 2.8-win season. That would be a near-three-win campaign for a player using conservative estimates. This projection has a fair amount of downside and upside to it, but imagining the upside is not hard. If Ozuna is a better defender up the middle than he is being credited here, he easily pushes a three-win campaign. If he puts up a year a little closer to the one he had last season, his offense bumps up and he is much closer to the near-four-win campaign from 2014. Of the two possibilities, I like the odds that his defense is better than what is listed here, but even as it stands, Miami would be getting a very good contribution from an important cog in their roster.