Marlins Spring Training Competition: Marcell Ozuna Improving?


Mar 12, 2014; Jupiter, FL, USA; Miami Marlins right fielder Marcell Ozuna (13) connects for double against the Atlanta Braves at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

We are at the home stretch of Spring Training, as the Miami Marlins have just three exhibition games left before Opening Day. We already know that Dan Marino will be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, yet we still don’t have an idea who the Marlins starting center fielder will be for that game.

The competition for the fifth starter role has yet to be determined as well, with a likely winner to be named sometime this weekend, maybe even as early as today, after Brad Hand takes the mound for his last spring start.

Finally, it doesn’t seem like Rafael Furcal will be 100% healthy before Opening Day, likely meaning a DL stint for him to begin the season. The Marlins have an intense battle brewing at second as a result of this.

Center Field Battle:

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Reed Johnson has already earned his place on the Marlins Opening Day roster after having a great Spring Training. He will likely serve as the backup outfielder, but could see a lot of potential playing time in left field, especially if Marcell Ozuna and Jake Marisnick begin the season in Triple-A.

Jake Marisnick has continued to play above his head in the Spring, posting the best average and on base percentage of all Marlins this Spring with at least 40 AB’s. All that success in the Spring doesn’t guarantee him a spot on the Marlins Opening Day roster, as the team still feels the need for him to get more minor league seasoning. I’d bet my money on Marisnick starting the season in Triple-A, but making an impact in the majors by June.

Marcell Ozuna has done the opposite of Marisnick this Spring, striking out 18 times in just 52 at bats. Ozuna does have 8 drawn walks, a major improvement for him in that category. Despite the ugly Spring numbers, manager Mike Redmond seems enthused about what Ozuna could bring the club and even hints that he’s seen improvement from Ozuna as the Spring has gone on:

"“Much better at-bats,” manager Mike Redmond said. “Sometimes with young guys, Spring Training can be tough because you’re working on stuff, too. Not only are guys competing and trying to win spots, they’re also working on their games.“They’re trying to tighten up swings. Sometimes that takes a little bit to get going. But his at-bats are getting much better. You just want to continue to see him be aggressive at the plate. That’s the biggest thing for me.”"

This sounds like a setup for news that Ozuna is going to be with the Marlins come Opening Day, despite suffering through a harsh Spring. I still feel Ozuna needs to at least begin the season in the minors, as his strikeout numbers are a concern for me going forward.

Fifth Starter Battle:

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Kevin Slowey is still in the mix, but the competition really seems to be between Tom Koehler and Brad Hand. Slowey is still very much in the mix for a bullpen role with the Marlins.

Tom Koehler seems to be the favorite to land the Marlins fifth starter role. He has enjoyed a strong Spring and pitched to mild success during the 2013 season. Koehler has also had scouts praising his pitching this Spring:

"Among players that have impressed the most this spring: Pitchers Brad Hand and Tom Koehler. Each has allowed one run in 12 innings; one will be in the rotation, one likely in the bullpen. “Koehler’s stuff has gotten better,” one scout said. “He’s already a No. 4-type starter and could end up being a No. 3.”"

Brad Hand is likely to make the Marlins as the second lefty out of the pen and positioned to make spot starts when needed. Hand has impressed with his control this Spring, but he remains a major question mark to sustain that over the course of the season. If Hand does land in the Marlins rotation, he’d provide the first regular lefty the Marlins have had since Scott Olsen.

Second Base Battle

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If Furcal does indeed begin the season on the DL, at least two of these players will make the team. Jeff Baker has already made the team after signing a multi-year contract. Ed Lucas and Donovan Solano are competing for the final bench spot. Both have had impressive springs, but at this point, Lucas should be seen as the favorite, because he can play every infield position as well as the outfield.

That leaves the Marlins to decide between Solano and Derek Dietrich for the second base job, should Furcal begin the season on the DL. While Solano is having a strong Spring, adding him to the Opening Day roster would be redundant with Lucas, a similar player, already on the roster.

I think the Marlins need to start Dietrich in the Majors and allow him a chance to see how he does against Major League pitching. He would also give the Marlins a needed third left handed power bat, behind Garrett Jones and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.