PHOENIX -- He has hit more homers than Andrew McCutchen, driven in more runs than Yasiel Puig, and, defensively, grades out better than Carlos Gomez — last year’s Gold Glove winner — using advanced metrics.
Yet, when the final votes were tallied for Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Minneapolis, the Marlins’ Marcell Ozuna didn’t even crack the top 15 among NL outfielders.
“People don’t know who he is, and they really should,” said Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill. “There were like a dozen baseball analysts who were talking about [All-Star] snubs, and only one of those brought up Ozuna.”
Even if the rest of the country is largely unfamiliar with Ozuna, he’s hardly an unknown to those who watch him regularly. While the 23-year-old Dominican has played just 10 games in the minors above Single A, he has quickly emerged as a force in the majors.
He clubbed a dramatic, two-out, two-strike home run in the ninth inning Tuesday to rescue the Marlins in their 2-1 victory against the Diamondbacks. He has hit 15 homers, second only to Giancarlo Stanton’s 21 on the Marlins. He’s riding a 14-game hitting streak. And he’s making the highlight reels with his formidable throwing arm, gunning down runners.
“He’s a physical specimen,” Hill said. “He plays a heck of a center field. He’s an instinctual player defensively. Great throwing arm. Tremendous bat speed and power. And he’s only getting better.”
Said third baseman Casey McGehee: “When he’s hot, he’s as good as anybody. I think it’s just the beginning of what he’s capable of. He’s still kind of learning on the job. I’m not even sure if he knows what he’s capable of doing yet.”
Statistically speaking, Ozuna is quietly lurking among the best outfielders in the league. Heck, he ranks with the best regardless of position. His WAR figure (wins above replacement) — an advanced metrics formula that serves as a gauge for a player’s all-around play — ranks ninth in the NL among all players.
“His numbers are better than McCutchen’s,” Hill said. “His numbers are better than Puig’s. Just go look at Puig’s numbers and you’ll be shocked, because they play very similarly. Look at McCutchen. McCutchen’s a different animal. But his [Ozuna’s] numbers are better than McCutchen’s.”
But Ozuna will be sitting home Tuesday while Puig, McCutchen and Gomez start in the outfield for the NL All-Stars.
“Nobody looked at Ozuna’s body of work,” Hill said.
And to think that many fans were clamoring for Jake Marisnick and not Ozuna to win an Opening Day roster spot. Marisnick was one of the Marlins’ best hitters during spring training while Ozuna struggled.
But the Marlins stuck with their hunches and awarded Ozuna the job.
“We take everything into account when we’re making our evaluations,” Hill said of the decision that went into choosing between the two. “With both players, we were very open where they were in their development. We always felt going into spring training that Ozuna was ahead of Jake. We still like both of them. But there were some things offensively that we wanted to improve upon with Jake.”
Hill said he hopes the trio of Ozuna, Stanton and Christian Yelich provide the Marlins with one of the best outfields for years.
Of course, a lot depends on whether the Marlins are able to sign Stanton to a long-term extension.
“That’s the hope,” Hill said. “This outfield could be together hopefully for a long time.”