Miami Marlins Position Review: Center Field Grades

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Marcell Ozuna – B+

One of the brightest spots on the surprising 2014 Miami Marlins squad was sophomore center fielder Marcell Ozuna. After spending a large chunk of 2013 with the Marlins out of sheer necessity, Ozuna cemented himself as the team’s full-time center fielder right out of the gate in 2014 and was one of baseball’s best players at the position all year.

Ozuna finally showcased the power potential he was lauded for in the minor leagues. In 612 plate appearances the 23 year-old mashed 23 home runs, second-most on the team to Giancarlo Stanton. He slashed .269/.317/.455 to go along with 85 RBI. Ozuna’s .772 OPS ranked sixth in all of baseball among center fielders. For some perspective, he managed just three home runs in his rookie season of 2013, where he was thrown to the wolves as a member of a 100-loss Marlins team after just 47 PA in Double-A. He looked largely overmatched last year, striking out 57 times in 275 PA. This year, Ozuna’s power came alive right out of the gate with a home run on Opening Day, the team’s first of 2014.

He was still a free-swinger the second time around, racking up 164 K’s in 2014, but the power numbers made up for it. Ozuna hit all over the place in Mike Redmond‘s lineup, mostly sixth and seventh before finally cementing himself in the cleanup spot after Stanton went down in September. It’s crazy to think how much more damage he could have done had he not been buried behind the offensive black holes that were Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Garrett Jones for much of the year.

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Ozuna still doesn’t walk much — just 41 times, good for a 6.7% rate — so his future isn’t anywhere at the top of the lineup. But in terms of sheer production, Ozuna helped the Marlins field what was arguably the best young outfield in baseball.

Might Marcell Ozuna have reached the 25 home run plateau had he been healthy the last week of the season? He was certainly overdue for another; his last long ball came on September 11 in Milwaukee.

May 23, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins center fielder Marcell Ozuna (13) makes a catch during the eighth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

I gave Ozuna a B+ because he was great, but not elite. I believe that A grades should go to the likes of Andrew McCutchen and Mike Trout, who were among the absolute best center fielders and put up near-MVP campaigns. However, Ozuna did remain healthy until suffering an ankle injury the last week of the season and was the best Marlin hitter not named Giancarlo Stanton.

As good as Ozuna was offensively (3.3 oWAR) he was also Miami’s best player on defense (1.4 dWAR). Sorry, Adeiny Hechavarria, the metrics don’t lie. Ozuna was a 4-win player, and could be in the running for most improved player with teammate Casey McGehee.

He showed 20+ home run power over three minor league levels and backed it up this year in the big leagues, so expect Ozuna to keep hitting bombs. If that happens, the Marlins can live with the low walk rate and high strikeouts.

I predict that other teams will show him more respect next year. He won’t get pitched around like Stanton does, but he should see more than the one IBB he was issued this year as a threat to go deep at any time. That kind of protection would make the Marlins very scary moving forward if they properly spend the money they are promising to upgrade the lineup.

The Marlins really have it made in the outfield, assuming they can sign Stanton to an extension. Ozuna isn’t arbitration-eligble until 2016 and can’t become a free agent until 2020. Christian Yelich isn’t going anywhere. If Ozuna continues to do close to what he did in 2014, many All-Star appearances are in his future. And he’s only 23!

X-rays on Ozuna’s ankle came back negative, so he should be good to go in 2015.

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Enrique Hernandez, Jake Marisnick, Jordany Valdespin and Christian Yelich each made brief appearances in center field this season. However, none of them logged enough plate appearances or innings in the field to warrant a grade. That’s because, much like Miami’s other two outfield spots, center field was locked down from day one. That outfield was easily the most consistent aspect of the 2014 Marlins, a team which often featured a jumbled infield, sans third base.

Expect Marcell Ozuna to patrol the spacious Marlins Park outfield for a very long time. That’s a beautiful thing for the Marlins.

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