Rare good news for Marlins: Stanton’s return means more home runs like this
The Marlins seem to be on a roll lately, because sweeping five games from the hapless Mets in a 10-day span will do that, but things are actually looking up for Jeffrey Loria’s vanity project. A day after activating Logan Morrison from the disabled list, they’ve activated Giancarlo Stanton as well, giving the majors’ lowest-scoring lineup some desperately-needed punch, not to mention a pair of players whose history with the team goes back longer than 15 minutes.
The return of Stanton is likely to have the greater impact, given that the 23-year-old slugger has established himself among the game’s elite power hitters. Last year, he led the NL with a .608 slugging percentage and bashed a career-high 37 homers despite missing a month due to in-season surgery to remove loose bodies in his right knee. Stanton missed six games in April due to soreness in his left shoulder, and on April 29, less than two weeks later, he suffered a Grade 2 right hamstring strain in a 15-inning Marlins-Mets game that foreshadowed this past weekend’s marathons. He had just begun to heat up when he got hurt, homering for the first time this year on April 27 and twice more on April 28. All told, he has played just 20 games, hitting .227/.341/.387 in 88 plate appearances; the Marlins can expect a whole lot more production given his career line of .268/.349/.544.
Here’s a GIF of that first homer, by the way, which came at the expense of the Cubs’ Carlos Villanueva and which ESPN Home Run Tracker estimated at 440 feet:
Stanton’s absence did yield one happy development, in that 22-year-old Marcell Ozuna stepped into his spot in rightfield and hit .331/.371/.472 in 152 plate appearances. A modestly heralded prospect coming into the year — 75th on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list — Ozuna had played just 10 games above High-A ball prior to being recalled. Now it appears that he’s around to stay; the Marlins plan to try him in centerfield, where he has just 38 games of professional experience. For a team in need of both offense and personality, that’s not a bad gamble given that the alternative is Justin Ruggiano (a team-high eight homers but just a .215/.289/.382 line).
Though Ozuna has just one homer so far, scouts consider him to have plus-plus power as well as good speed and a cannon for an arm — defensive qualities that will play well in center. The knock on him from scouts was whether he could learn to lay off breaking pitches, and given his 32-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio thus far, not to mention his gaudy 36.8 percent O-Swing% (the percentage of pitches he chases outside the strike zone) those questions haven’t been answered to anyone’s satisfaction. As tantalizing as he may be, his production will take a hit once his .422 batting average on balls in play cools down.
As for Morrison, he went 2-for-4 with a double on Sunday, his 2013 season debut and his first major league game since last July 28. Morrison hit just .230/.308/.399 with 11 homers in 93 games last year — down from .259/.351/.460 in 2010-2011 — with his power and his batting average on balls in play sapped by a torn patellar tendon in his right knee that he had played through since early May. He finally underwent surgery in September but made a slower-than-expected return.
Primarily a leftfielder during his first three seasons due in part to the presence of the since-traded Gaby Sanchez, the now-25-year-old Morrison is slated to be the team’s primary first baseman. In that regard, he’ll be a welcome upgrade over Casey Kotchman and Greg Dobbs. Signed as a free agent to help buy time for Morrison’s return, Kotchman instead missed the first two months of the season due to a left hamstring strain, went 0-for-20 in six games and went back on the DL with an oblique strain as the flipside to Morrison’s activation. Dobbs, who has had no business playing every day since 2009, has hit an appalling .216/.288/.281 in 191 PA.
The returns of Stanton and Morrison won’t change the Marlins into contenders, but they should help them activate the home run sculpture more often. The Marlins’ 31 homers are 15 fewer than the next-lowest NL team, the Dodgers, and in addition to being last in the majors in on-base (.288) and slugging (.325) percentages, they’re dead stinking last in scoring at 3.02 runs per game, 0.46 fewer than the second-worst team (Washington). Additionally, the presence of the dynamic duo should help Miami break free of any threat to slip below the 1962 Mets’ infamous .250 winning percentage; they’re now at .290 (18-44), but they were at .241 (13-44) prior to sweeping the current Mets on back-to-back weekends.