It's not as though we didn't know the Marlins were desperate, but that doesn't make it any easier to watch them continue to rush prospects to the majors.
In response to the latest injury to star Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins have called up outfield prospect Marcell Ozuna and inserted him directly into their starting lineup, this despite his having just 10 games of experience above A-ball. In addition to his lack of experience, the 22-year-old Dominican native is an incredibly raw prospect at the plate, especially with his approach.
Ozuna, like so many young power hitters, has had issues with plate discipline and strikeouts. The right-handed hitter has hit 22 home runs or more in each of the past three minor league seasons, but also has a 341-to-109 strike out to walk ratio over that time. Last year, Ozuna put together a nice, but not exceptional, year at High-A Jupiter as a 21-year-old, hitting .266/.328/.476 in a full season there with 27 doubles and 24 home runs.
Ozuna is a physical specimen, with the type of raw power that organizations wish they could teach. He also has a free-swinging approach, one that the Marlins determined needed more work in the Florida State League to begin this season. After just four games there, he was bumped to Double-A, where he was red-hot for a 10-game stint. But even while hot -he hit five home runs for Jacksonville - he struck out nine times.
Eric Weston of FishStripes.com makes the case that the red-hot Ozuna could jump-start the Marlins offense, and explains the lack of other outfield options on the 40-man roster. Both of those facts may be true, but neither is a reasonable excuse for rushing Ozuna to the majors.
Ozuna has the potential to be an impact player, providing 20-30 home runs annually along with potentially-plus defense in a corner outfield position. He will never be confused for a patient hitter and will always battle contact issues, but he has the potential to develop his approach enough to allow his power to play at the major league level. In fact, as Weston points out, his strike out rates have declined in each of the past two seasons. But by jumping Ozuna directly to the majors, the Marlins have greatly increased the chances of stunting his growth.
Here's a similar situation where this happened before:
The organization and teams may have given it away, but can you guess the prospect? Those are the final two minor league seasons of Wily Mo Pena before the Reds called him to the big leagues, at least one year too early.
Much like Ozuna, Pena was a physically gifted power hitter with extreme strike out rates thanks to an extremely aggressive approach at the plate. Pena put together a few above-average years thanks to tremendous raw talent, but ultimately was never able to put his abilities to full use in the majors. Would that have been different if he had been left in the minors until he was 22? We'll never know. But it couldn't have hurt, and rushing him certainly didn't help.
Ozuna was already swinging and missing too much against competition in the low minors, and that flaw will be exposed even further in the majors, much in the same way it was for Pena. Ozuna's numbers aren't quite that dramatic, but they are in the same mold, and he has been older for his levels of competition than was Pena.
The Marlins were limited in their choices for outfielders already on the 40-man roster (a predicament they've put themselves in), but there were still plenty of options within the organization that would have been better than Ozuna.
Even if Ozuna comes in hot and helps jump start the Marlins pathetic offense, it will be only a temporary jump, equivalent to a cup of coffee attempting to get a worker through a all 24-hour shift - it may help for a short time, but it's not a permanent solution.
Ozuna has a chance to be a part of the long-term solution in Miami, but it's not going to happen this year. Exposing him to the majors now, and especially leaving him there for a large portion of this season, without having spent any significant time in Double or Triple-A facing more advanced off-speed pitches from older pitchers, exposes him and could ruin his development.
Ozuna is simply not ready to hit major league pitching, and the league will show that fact sooner rather than later. The Marlins can only help that the exposure doesn't do permanent damage.