Heading into this week, there were still three impact outfielders available in free agency. One of those players was Marcell Ozuna, who signed with the Braves on Tuesday.
Marcell Ozuna Signed With Braves
It’s been quite the interesting offseason for the defending NL East Champions. After losing to the Cardinals in the NLDS, the Braves have loaded up on veteran pitching, picking up Felix Hernandez (Minor League deal) and Cole Hamels on short-term deals. The Braves also signed Will Smith, beefing up a bullpen that already included Shane Greene, Chris Martin and Mark Melancon.
However, the Braves still had one loose end to tie entering January, and that was Josh Donaldson. The former Blue Jay reignited his career with the Braves last season, smashing 37 home runs while proving he can still perform at an elite level. But Donaldson did not re-sign with the Braves, as he took a four-year deal with the Twins earlier this month. The loss of the “Bringer of Rain” was a huge blow to the Braves, as it left a considerable hole in the middle of lineup for the defending NL East Champions. But former Cardinal Marcell Ozuna could be a suitable replacement.
2017 was a career year for Ozuna, as he smacked 37 home runs and put up a .924 OPS for the Miami Marlins. After his career season, the rebuilding Marlins shipped him to the Cardinals, as the Redbirds were looking to make waves in the NL Central. Ozuna hit 52 home runs in his time in St. Louis, while batting .262 over his two seasons with the Redbirds. Those numbers may not exactly be eye-popping, considering his monster 2017 season with the Marlins, but it’s important to keep in mind that the 29-year old did deal with injuries over the past two seasons. Ozuna dealt with right shoulder inflammation in 2018, and lost a month last season after fracturing his right middle finger.
Even though the numbers from Ozuna were good, but not great, the advanced analytics paint a different picture. Ozuna’s average exit velocity (93th percentile, according to Baseball Savant) and Hard Hit% (96th percentile) were phenomenal, as was his 11.3% BB% rate. Among qualified outfielders, Ozuna’s BB% rate was not only well above league average, but was 15th in MLB in 2019. Even though he didn’t put up the numbers on paper that he did with the Marlins in St. Louis, the analytics certainly show that Ozuna can still be an elite performer.
An outfielder who gets on base and consistently makes hard contract, Ozuna made perfect sense for the Braves. If he can stay healthy, he could put up 30 or more home runs at Truist Park, a field that has been rather hitter-friendly since it opened
What This Moves Mean For the Braves
Aside from adding a talented hitter to the middle of their lineup, the pickup of Ozuna now means that Austin Riley will be moving to third base. With an outfield of Ozuna, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Nick Markakis, Riley, who primarily played in left field last season after being called up from Gwinnett (AAA), will move back to his natural position to start the 2020 season.
It’s going to be interesting to see if the 6’3”, 220 lb. Riley can handle the hot corner in the Majors. He played in five games (four starts) in 2019 at the position for the Braves, and did not commit an error at third during his brief time there. However, Riley did struggle at the hot corner initially during his time in the Minors before getting a handle on the position. Now he gets the chance to cement himself as the team’s third baseman of the future.
Another thing to keep in mind with this move is that Ozuna is on a one-year deal. The short-term deal not only saves the Braves some long-term flexibility from a financial standpoint, but it also means that the path is still clear for Cristian Pache and Drew Waters in the outfield. The two outfielders are expected to be long-term fixtures for the Braves in the outfield in the future. By Ozuna signing a one-year deal, the Braves managed to maintain a clear path for the two, and neither of the two need to be rushed to the Majors, considering the Braves’ depth in the outfield at the moment.
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