Ozuna finds his footing in New Orleans

Marcell Ozuna has batted .353 with 12 extra-base hits in his first 18 games with the Zephyrs. Photo by: Parker Waters / New Orleans Zephyrs

Marcell Ozuna has batted .353 with 12 extra-base hits in his first 18 games with the Zephyrs. Photo by: Parker Waters / New Orleans Zephyrs

Coming into 2015, the Miami Marlins had reasons to believe that this would be the season to break a 12-year playoff drought since winning the franchise’s second World Series in 2003.

The team had acquired Dee Gordon and Dan Haren from the Los Angeles Dodgers, and veteran righty Mat Latos from Cincinnati. They gave superstar slugger Giancarlo Stanton a 13-year, $325 million contract extension, the richest contract in American sports history.

Miami had the makings of one of the best outfields in the game, with all three positions occupied by players 25 years old or younger. Christian Yelich, a 2014 National League Gold Glove winner, also signed a new contract with the club prior to the season after batting .284 with nine home runs and 54 RBI in his first full season.

But the player who manned the outfield between Stanton and Yelich flashed two-way ability that could impact the game like few others in the league. 24-year-old Marcell Ozuna, the club’s starting center fielder, was coming off a season in which he hit .269 with 23 home runs, 26 doubles and 85 RBI. He played defense at a high level, racking up 10 outfield assists to rank second in the National League.

However, the 2015 season has not gone the way Ozuna or the Marlins would have liked it to, as the Dominican Republic native went 1-for-37 over a 10-game stretch before being optioned to New Orleans on July 5. He had been hitting .249 with four homers and 26 RBI for Miami in 79 games. It was the first demotion of any kind for Ozuna since signing as an undrafted free agent in 2008.

“It’s funny, I have so much history with Ozuna; I’ve know him since he signed,” Zephyrs manager Andy Haines said. “I managed instructional league the day he came in and it’s funny to see him go from a little kid, basically, to what he is now and in the grand scheme of things, like I’ve told him about 10 times, this is the best thing that could ever happen to him. I think he’s a major league All-Star and I think he could be a superstar-type player.”

Ozuna has come to New Orleans and performed the way he’s capable of, batting .353 with 12 extra-base hits in 18 games, while collecting four homers and nine RBI. He recently rescued the Zephyrs with a game-tying home run in the ninth inning in Nashville, and has hit .524 (11-for-21) in the seventh inning and later.

“You just don’t see guys that can do what he does with the bat,” Haines said. “Some of the balls he’s hit and the way he can play the outfield and throw. I don’t know if I’ve had a player handle it better, coming from the big leagues to Triple-A. He just plays with a joy about him and he’s happy and he’s been a good teammate.”

For now, as he continues to rack up the hits against Pacific Coast League pitchers, Ozuna awaits the call that will bring him back to Miami. He said it’s been tough, but he continues to put his best foot forward and hone his craft.

“I am just waiting for Miami to give me the chance again to play in the big leagues,” Ozuna said. “That’s what I work for and what I wait for.”

As for his recent run of success with the Zephyrs, Ozuna said he isn’t trying to do too much, instead focusing on the basics.

“I’m just going out there trying to hit the ball. I don’t do anything specific. I just hit the ball and stay back,” he said.

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