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The Unexpected Competence of Marcell Ozuna

A look at the surprisingly early success of Marcell Ozuna and a guess at whether it will continue or not

Rich Schultz

I've done a couple of these types of profiles already, looking at surprising season's from Adam Lind and Jhonny Peralta. However, I feel my forte is with younger players as I spend most of my time here writing about prospects. With this in mind, I thought I'd combine the two ideas of a player having a better than expected season in the major leagues while also being a prospect/early career player. Then, as I was continuing to watch people talk about Yasiel Puig and his inevitable regression, I decided to take a look at a guy that has significantly outperformed my expectations in Miami Marlins rookie Marcell Ozuna.

While he was considered a solid prospect coming into the 2013 season, Ozuna didn't get a ton of play. He ranked 10th on Baseball Prospectus' Marlin's top 10, not bad considering the talent infusion during the 2012 offseason. I don't think anyone foresaw, however, Ozuna's rapid rise to the big leagues considering he spent all of 2012 in the Hi-A Florida State League, producing a solid-but-not-spectacular .266/.328/.476 slash line. After only 14 minor league games (10 at Double-A), Ozuna was summoned to the big leagues and has acquitted himself well thus far, recording a .293/.323/.427 slash line over the course of 236 plate appearances. It's a bit of a surprise since Ozuna hadn't posted a batting average over .279 since rookie ball. What was expected out of Ozuna was power, as scouts have thrown a 70 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) on his raw power. So what's behind the change in Ozuna's game? If he was a power prospect throughout his time in the minors, why is he hitting for (relatively) little power but (relatively) high average?

The first thing we might look to is Ozuna's BABIP. Often looked at as some sort of measure of luck, BABIP is more than that as some players batted profiles would indicate that their unusually BABIPs are sustainable. Ozuna though is producing a BABIP significantly higher than any BABIP he produced in the minors (outside of a 55 game sample in rookie ball, 2009). At .360, Ozuna's current BABIP is not only well above his career norm, but it's well above the league average. This doesn't mean it's not sustainable though, it just means the changes in Ozuna's approach would have to be sustained as well. And there are reasons to believe that Ozuna's BABIP is at a sustainable/near-sustainable level given his batted ball profile (23.6 LD%, 43.8 GB%) though the tough part is imagining he can keep either of those rates as high as they are currently.

The other issue is Ozuna's walk rate. We hear a lot about Yasiel Puig and how his regression is inevitable because of his insane BABIP (which is accurate), but we also hear questions about Puig's functionality because his peripheral stats are questionable - with his walk and strikeout rate often cited. Well, Puig's rates are at 3.3% and 19.8%, while Ozuna's sit at 3.8% and 19.9%. So while Puig is likely due for regression, I'd hazard that Ozuna is too and given the lack of power produced thus far for Ozuna, if he stops hitting for average, he won't be much of a fantasy asset. All this is said with the caveat that I think Ozuna returns to hitting for power at some point, thus salvaging some value. That said, this article is mainly for those who are buying into the 23-year old as a potentiall all-around contributor, thinking that he could add his power to his already impressive hitting skills. It's not impossible of course, but it seems fairly unlikely given Ozuna's previous approach and skillset.

Source Material
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus

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You can find more of my work at The Dynasty Guru and MLB Draft Insider