As the 2023 season comes to an end, I’m going to be highlighting some of the seasons from individual Braves, beginning with the biggest surprise and I’ll wrap up this series with the Most Valuable Player (you might have an idea of who will be recognized in that category).
The Braves had a number of shocking developments throughout their 2023 campaign, which is why they’ve put together one of the best seasons in franchise history. Bryce Elder was monumental to the team’s success. He didn’t even begin the season on the major-league roster and ended up making an All-Star appearance while starting 30 games. It hasn’t always been pretty in the second half, but without him, the Braves aren’t where they are today, given the injuries to Max Fried and Kyle Wright that kept them out for most of the season.
Orlando Arcia is another one that deserves recognition. Not many people thought he would win the starting shortstop job out of Spring Training, but he did and has made the most of it. He’s been one of the best shortstops in the National League and deservedly was named the starting shortstop for the All-Star team. Given his contract, Arcia has blossomed into one of the best bargains across the league.
However, neither of them got the nod for the most surprising Braves player of 2023 from me.
Most surprising Braves Player of 2023: Marcell Ozuna
How could I go with anyone else other than The Big Bear? This is a guy that could have been released numerous times over the last 18 months. He was arrested twice, and his on-the-field production tanked as the pressure mounted to all-time highs. Ozuna looked like he was a couple of days away from getting designated for assignment after hitting .085 in April, and not a soul would have batted an eye, but something clicked for him once the calendar turned to May.
Since a May 2nd contest against the Marlins, Ozuna has become arguably the best designated hitter in baseball, and that’s not an exaggeration. He’s hit .297 with 33 homers and 25 doubles, resulting in a .945 OPS. Ozuna is somehow going to finish the season with an OPS close to .900, and he needs just three more homers over the final 10 games to set a new career high.
If you had told any Braves fan that after what happened in 2021, 2022, and April of 2023, nobody would have believed it. Ozuna’s rejuvenated presence in the middle of this lineup has taken it from elite to historic. He’s a primary reason why the Braves have become the favorites to win the World Series, and he’s been the biggest surprise of the 2023 campaign.
Photo: John Adams/Icon Sportswire