The Rise, Fall, and Resurgence of Marcell Ozuna

Marcell Ozuna has a very complicated relationship with Braves Country as he won them over early on. However, off-field issues and subpar on-field performance led to many feeling less than excited about having Ozuna on the team. He's worked hard to try and repair that relationship the best he can in 2023.

Atlanta Braves v Tampa Bay Rays
Atlanta Braves v Tampa Bay Rays / Mike Ehrmann/GettyImages
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Marcell Ozuna. You either like him, or you don't. He has created a complicated legacy for himself in the eyes of Atlanta Braves fans. When the Braves signed him to a four-year deal in 2020, nobody expected him to fall from grace so hard.

After winning a sliver slugger, batting over .300, and going off in the 2020 postseason, Ozuna found himself batting .87 in May of this year, getting booed at each plate appearance, and the being topic of countless trade conversations.

However, in Miami, where he played his first formative years in the MLB, something clicked for Ozuna, and he hasn't looked back. What changed for him? Is he back? And what's next? I intend to answer these questions today.

Before the fall

Marcell Ozuna started his career with the Miami Marlins. In his first five years, he batted .265, .269, .259, .266. and .312. Ozuna gained his reputation as a power hitter in Miami. That final year in 2017 was a strong one, as he batted .500 and went 10 for 20 with three home runs, seven RBIs, and six runs scored in the last week of September.

His .312 average and .924 OPS caught the eye of the St Louis Cardinals and rated Ozuna "The best-left fielder in the major leagues" in 2018. Marcell was traded to the Cardinals in December 2017 and signed a one-year deal in January 2018. In his first season with the Cardinals, Ozuna did not disappoint. His month of June was stellar, batting over .400 with an OPS north of .900. Over the season, he would go on to hit 28 home runs, with 88 RBIs in 143 games to a .280 average.

In Ozuna's contract year, his performance was halted by a finger fracture, and he was out until August. Ozuna slashed .243/.330/.804 upon reactivation with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs in 130 games. During the NLDS against the Braves, he would show his postseason prowess, batting .429 with 9 hits and 5 RBI in five games.

League Championship - Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves - Game Four
League Championship - Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves - Game Four / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

The heights

The Braves took notice of Ozuna's success against them in the NLDS and signed him to a one-year $18 million deal. Before the season could begin, the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 season. When play resumed in July, Ozuna was given the starting spot in left field. In the shortened 60-game season, he was an absolute offensive force.

His final line for the season was .338/.431/.636. He led the National League with 18 home runs, 56 RBIs, and 145 total bases. In the postseason, Ozuna had 14 hits, 3 home runs, and 12 RBI. Ozuna shined in the NLDS, specifically, batting .308. The Braves would lose the NLCS to the Dodgers in seven games. However, for now, he had won the admiration of Braves fans.

The fall

In 2021, the Braves started the season off slow and hovered below .500 for most of the year. The Braves lost All-Star Ronald Acuna in July and were on the brink of finishing under .500. We all know how this story goes...trades were made, a season was saved, and the Braves captured the NL East with an 88-74 record to stay afloat. However, Braves fans also remember that year for another reason.

On May 29th, Ozuna was arrested and charged with aggravated assault by strangulation and battery. Ozuna had recently suffered an injury while the Braves were in Boston which is why he wasn't with the team. Police claimed they witnessed him grabbing his wife by the neck and shoving her into a wall. This shocked Braves fans everywhere and Ozuna was placed on administrative leave on September 9th.

This caused him to miss the rest of the season and a World Series win. Despite Ozuna's charges being withdrawn by the Fulton County District Attorney's Office due to video evidence proving Police reports wrong, Ozuna's reputation was tarnished. He then completed 200 hours of community service, an anger management program, and a 24-week family violence intervention program following the incident.

Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves
Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves / Adam Hagy/GettyImages

Ozuna from the Braves

2022 wasn't any kinder to Ozuna who played 124 games and averaged a strikeout per AB with 122 Ks. He hit 23 home runs but sunk to a .226 average which was his lowest in years. On August 29th, around 4 a.m. Ozuna was pulled over by Police and suspected of DUI after weaving out of his lane.

Ozuna was captured on bodycam footage in a physically impaired state and was taken into custody shortly after. His second arrest in over a year was career suicide. Ken Rosenthal even spoke on the situation stating that he expected the Braves would release Ozuna from the team.

Ozuna was booed during each at-bat and became the butt of countless jokes for the next month. In the NLDS against the Phillies, Philly fans chanted "DUI" at Ozuna about his arrest, and Ozuna went hitless in the series.

The resurgence

At the beginning of this year, Ozuna had only two hits come the month of May. Those hits were two solo homers. It looked like his time with Atlanta was finished but as the team began a series against the Marlins in Miami, a place where Ozuna has always hit well, something, whatever it was, clicked for him. On May 5th, Ozuna came up to bat with an average of .085.

What followed from Ozuna was a three-hit explosion beginning with a grand slam, solo homer, and single. Despite this, people still scoffed at his .111 average. However, the hits didn't stop coming, and Ozuna embarked on what is described as a redemption tour.

Ozuna batted over .297 in May, with 9 homers, 27 hits, and 20 RBI. In June, he batted .309 with 25 hits, 5 homers, and 15 RBI. Since May 6th, Ozuna has been batting .278 with 55 hits, 12 home runs, 32 RBIs, and 27 runs scored in 54 games.

Ozuna has a slight slump going in July, with only one home run and a .214 average. However, what has led to his success is his plate vision. Marcell has practiced taking sliders outside and change-ups down for the last couple of months. As a result, his walk rate has increased and his strikeout percentage has decreased. This improvement has been an essential part of his revival.

So, where we stand now is the possibility of Ozuna living out the last few years of his contract with positive production on and off the field. He has taken great care to help his teammates with their struggles at the plate. Michael Harris II and Matt Olson have attributed their recent success at the plate, outside of their own work, to Ozuna taking time to talk with them about their swings and at-bats.

The Braves designated hitter is working to rebuild his reputation in the clubhouse and with fans. So far, Braves country has stopped booing Ozuna and this year could be when he finally turns things around for good. With the Braves pretty much a lock for the 2023 postseason, the question is: will we see the same Ozuna we did in 2020? Only time can answer that question.