There was a lot to like about Marcell Ozuna just over a year ago, when the Atlanta Braves swooped in and signed him on a one-year pact for $18 million. Sure, his surface numbers were nothing spectacular the past two years in St. Louis, but there were so many underlying factors showing a monstrous season was possible with a few adjustments and a little luck.
Flash forwarded a calendar year, and Ozuna, who was genuinely one of baseball’s best bats last summer, is now ingrained into the Braves’ core for the next half-decade after locking in a four-year deal worth $65 million that can escalate to five years and $80 million if he continues hitting the cover off the ball.
If not for Freddie Freeman garnering so much attention, Ozuna likely would have finished near the top of MVP voting in 2020. He hit an out-of-his-mind .338/.431/.636 with a league-best 18 homers and 56 RBI. His 179 wRC+ was third-best in MLB behind Juan Soto and Freeman. His batted ball numbers have been great for years, and they finally translated to a career-best two months last summer.
It would be unfair to expect Ozuna to continue his otherworldly pace moving forward, but projection models still show plenty of reason for excitement. ZiPS has the 30-year-old slugger pegged for a 127 wRC+, while Steamer is at 120. Some regression from his .391 BABIP is inevitable (he outhit his xwOBA by .020), but if he continues hitting rockets all over the diamond as he’s done nearly his entire career, it should help stave off a drastic decrease in production overall.
The big question with Ozuna is his glove, and as of writing this he is set to play left field for the Braves every day next season. It’s possible the DH is thrown into the National League’s plans as it was last year, but if that does not happen it seems safe to say the club will rely heavily on Cristian Pache in center field to help cover ground between the two. It also seems probable Brian Snitker will sub out Ozuna in the later innings of games, especially if the club has the lead or if Ozuna is not due up to hit in the immediate future.
Ozuna felt like a must-get for the Braves as the offseason progressed as other options came off the table. Now entrenched in the middle of the order for at least the next four seasons, all eyes will be on Ozuna as he looks for another big season batting alongside Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman and Travis d’Arnaud.