Miami Marlins

Marcell Ozuna’s big year may lead to starting Miami All-Star Game

Miami outfielder Marcell Ozuna hits a solo home run during the second inning against the Cubs at Marlins Park on Thursday.
Miami outfielder Marcell Ozuna hits a solo home run during the second inning against the Cubs at Marlins Park on Thursday. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

Marcell Ozuna reached into a cabinet above his locker, pulled out a pair of thick gold chains and placed them around his neck.

He also grabbed a pair of diamond-stud earrings, a bottle of moisturizer, which he massaged into his arms, and a bottle of cologne, which he spritzed onto his neck.

This post-game ritual is performed after every Marlins home game before Ozuna can be interviewed on camera, and it’s emblematic of how far he’s come.

Because for Ozuna, none of this was supposed to happen.

He wasn’t supposed to be an All-Star about to make his second-consecutive appearance in the midsummer classic at age 26, and maybe even start the game now that he’s received the third-most votes among National League outfielders as of Monday.

Then again, is becoming a major league star really supposed to happen for anyone? Not really. But some have advantages Ozuna didn’t.

Growing up in the beach town of Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic, he didn’t have as much exposure and advanced scouting as his American counterparts. His family wasn’t wealthy — his father was a painter who worked at the same company for 42 years, and his mother was a housekeeper — but they supported his diamond dreams.

He also wasn’t focused exclusively on baseball. He loved basketball as well.

“That’s what helped me get a little bit more tall,” the 6-1 outfielder joked.

But baseball was where his passion was. He looked up to Dominican MLB stars like Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, among others.

“Every time when Pedro Martinez would go and pitch,” he said, “that motivated me to be a good player.”

Emulating those role models, Ozuna made it to an tryout in 2008 where he was noticed by the Marlins. They offered to sign him in their second meeting. He was 17.

“They give me an opportunity,” Ozuna said, “so I sign with them. And when I come over here, I don’t speak English. It was hard for me to come from the Dominican not speaking English and surviving.”

NEED ALL-STAR GAME TICKETS? There are plenty of ways to get them

Ozuna was determined to teach himself English, and for the most part, he succeeded. But there was also the matter of succeeding in baseball -- the whole reason the Marlins brought him to America.

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Miami’s Christian Yelich celebrates with Marcell Ozuna after he drove in Dee Gordon with the game-winning run against the Nationals on June 19. Patrick Farrell pfarrell@miamiherald.com

His first action in the states was as a member of the Gulf Coast Marlins, Miami’s rookie-level team. This was where Ozuna started to emerge as a potential plus prospect, hitting .313 with five homers in 55 games.

He then moved up to the New York-Penn League’s Jamestown Jammers, where his emergence continued. Despite his average dropping to .267, he smacked 21 homers and drove in 60 runs in 68 games. That led to some scouting reports, which drooled over Ozuna’s power but questioned his hitting potential.

“Hit tool is big question mark,” read one report from Baseball Prospectus. “Could limit power utility; swing gets long and leveraged; struggles with off-speed offerings; will expand zone; pitchers with a plan can get him out.”

Tell that to pitchers now.

With 13 games remaining until this season’s All-Star break, Ozuna ranks ninth in the National League with a .319 batting average and entered Monday tied for second in the league with 20 home runs.

It was a similar story last season, when he headed to his first All-Star game hitting .307 with 17 homers. But after the break, Ozuna suffered a massive drop off, hitting .209 with six homers.

Marlins manager Don Mattingly said that drop in production goes back to those old scouting reports: Ozuna started swinging at bad pitches, got into bad counts and got himself out.

Now, bearing the gold and diamonds, the man who wasn’t supposed to be a star has a chance to show the Marlins that last season’s second half was an outlier. That he’s worth the $3.5 million he’s making this season.

“If he gets himself strikes, then he’s gonna hit,” Mattingly said. “If he stays within his approach, not afraid to use both sides of the field, then he’s gonna hit. He’s just that good.”

ALL-STAR VOTING

On Monday, MLB.com announced Miami’s Marcell Ozuna took over the third starting outfield spot for the 88th annual All-Star Game to be played at Marlins Park on July 11.

Voting on the All-Star Game starters runs through Thursday at 11:59 p.m.

The starting players and rosters will be revealed on Sunday at 7 on ESPN.

Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton — who has already been selected to defend his title at the Home Run Derby on July 10 — is also in the running to be named a starter and sits seventh in voting.

To vote on the American and National League teans, click here.

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