The moment has finally arrived. Players are reporting to camp; before long, live baseball games will be played as Spring Training begins. This is one of the more exciting times of the year for Braves fans, as they are once again set to have an ultra-talented roster. Winners of five straight NL East titles, Atlanta is aiming for #6 in 2023, but the real prize is the illustrious Commissioner’s Trophy. The Braves hope to raise it for the second time in three years, and what happens over the next six weeks will go a long way in deciding how successful this team will be.
With such a complete roster, the Braves don’t have many positions that are up for grabs. However, there are a few, and arguably the most important comes in left field, where Marcell Ozuna, Eddie Rosario, Sam Hilliard, and others will battle it out for reps. It should be the best competition of Spring Training, but Marcell Ozuna has a bit more than just a starting job on the line. With a poor performance leading up to the season, he could find himself off the roster altogether.
Like most fans, I’m shocked Marcell Ozuna still dons a Braves jersey. He missed most of the 2021 season because of a domestic violence dispute. That alone could have cost him his job, but I understood why the Braves kept him around because of his contract.
However, 2022 was equally as dreadful — on and off the field. On it, he was among the worst players in the league. Despite slugging 23 homers in just 124 games, he managed to accrue a staggering -0.6 fWAR, thanks to his abysmal defense and paltry .274 OBP. Off the field, all he did was collect another arrest, picking up a DUI charge while the team was smack dab in the middle of a competitive race for the NL East. Given how terrible he was performing and the second legal incident, I was sure the Braves would finally cut ties, but they hung on and even continued starting him.
It’s become overwhelmingly apparent the Braves still value Marcell Ozuna in some manner. They do not want to just eat the remaining $33 million left on his contract. They are holding out hope he can return to the form he flashed during the shortened 2020 season and before. They also have stated on several occasions that he’s well liked in the clubhouse, which carries a lot of weight in the organization. Still, if Ozuna looks like the player he was last season in Spring Training, there’s a very good chance this is the last time we see him in a Braves jersey.
On the other hand, Marcell Ozuna could also be an integral part to the Braves reaching their goals next season. As far as offensive talents go, he has a track record of success, and the team doesn’t have any inspiring options to play left field or be used as the DH. If he can return to form, he’ll be playing nearly every day, and despite his legal troubles, that is what would be best for the success of the team.
Which is what makes this situation so intriguing. Ozuna could be released or penciled in as an everyday starter six weeks from now, even if that’s not what most Braves would like to hear.
If you’ve been following my current series where I predict the 2023 stats of each player, you probably already know where I’m going with this one. I think Ozuna will earn his spot on the roster during Spring Training and be a critical piece to the Braves 2023 campaign. Either way, it will be the top storyline over the next six weeks.
Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire
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