Braves manager Brian Snitker on Ozuna: ‘Marcell is gonna be on our team’

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Let’s get something out of the way first.

“Marcell is gonna be on our team,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said Thursday. “I mean, just how much he plays is gonna be determined by how well he does.”

There it is, in case you had any doubts. Marcell Ozuna is owed $37 million through the rest of his contract, and the Braves, who might not want to eat that, will see what he can give them for now.

Like anything, you can debate this situation: Should the Braves have moved on sooner? Should Ozuna, if he underperforms this spring, make the team over others who might be better? Fair questions, but they distract from the overall point.

As of now, it appears Ozuna will be on the Braves in 2023.

Asked if he felt certain of his chances to make the team, Ozuna said this before Snitker talked: “I feel good. They know who I am, they know what I can do when I’m one good. They have the decision so whatever they do, I’m fine. Any opportunity they give me, I’ll take it.”

Ozuna seems to fit best as the designated hitter. Over the offseason, president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos brought in four outfielders – Jordan Luplow, Eli White and Kevin Pillar and Sam Hilliard – who are better in the field than Ozuna. Plus, Ozuna’s bat, if it reaches its potential, can impact the lineup.

The important phrase: “If it reaches its potential.” Everyone knows what Ozuna can do. The problem is that he hasn’t done it over the past couple of seasons.

Now he’s in camp trying to find his form.

“I feel OK,” Ozuna said. “I don’t feel 100%, but I guarantee that it’s gonna be there for the season and then (that will make it a) really good season.”

Ozuna said he needs to get his timing down. “If I get more at-bats, I’ll be fine and I’ll get my feeling back again, and continue to do what I do,” Ozuna said. He doesn’t know how long it’ll take to feel up to speed this spring, but he said he’s continuing to work hard.

When he reported to camp last month, Ozuna mentioned his arm feeling stronger. He alluded to inflammation in his shoulder.

This is what happened: After his shoulder surgery in 2018, he didn’t recover well, he said. The inflammation in his shoulder hurt his arm strength.

Was it painful?

“A little bit, a little bit,” he said. “Inflammation in my shoulder restricted my shoulder from making a good rotation.”

In 2022, Ozuna had the second-worst arm strength among outfielders with a minimum of 100 throws, according to Baseball Savant. His throws averaged 79.2 mph. In 2021, he also ranked second to last in this category.

Ozuna said strengthening his shoulder over this offseason helped deal with the inflammation. He said he feels much better.

“I’m working on my arm every day,” he said.

Added Snitker: “Hopefully, it builds up over the course of the spring. Because he can still go get the ball, it’s just the throwing, over the years, and I think injuries and all. He used to have a really above-average arm. He’s worked really hard at it. We’ll see in time how it builds back.”

Ozuna has a Gold Glove to his name. But his defense probably won’t define his value throughout the rest of his deal in Atlanta.

Ozuna’s power separates him from average hitters. Yes, he must barrel up baseballs to put that power on display. But his pop is how he can make his presence felt.

“Just a very polished hitter, a guy that you want up in big situations,” Kevin Pillar said of Ozuna. “Obviously has the big power, but has the ability to get big hits in big moments, and has played on the biggest stages – not only here in the States, but in the (World Baseball Classic), too, and in the Dominican (Winter) League.

“He’s fun to be around. Definitely a different guy when you share the same clubhouse with him. He seems like a very intimidating presence from the other clubhouse, but it couldn’t be any further from the truth. He’s just a very genuine guy and a very nice guy, and it’s been fun to be around him.”

Over the past two seasons, Ozuna has posted a .675 OPS. He hasn’t lived up to his previous performance, which included two Silver Slugger Awards and two All-Star nods.

Can Ozuna be his old self again?

“I think I can be (that) this year,” he said. “I’m gonna work every day to be successful.”

Ozuna probably will spend most of his time in the designated hitter spot. He has expressed confidence in his ability to play left field before.

“We’ll see,” Ozuna said. “I don’t know. It’s not my decision. It’s the (manager) and the team’s decision. I can’t promise I’m gonna be there every day, but I can promise that if I put my work together, I’ll be in the lineup every day.”

Last August, after he was arrested for DUI, Ozuna apologized to his teammates. “You’re learning from the mistake,” he said. “You cannot do that again.” It seems his teammates accepted his apology, which came one year and change after he was arrested on felony charges of domestic violence. (These charges later were reduced to a misdemeanor).

“I’m gonna be better than I usually was the last two years,” Ozuna said Thursday. “My career was clean and beautiful. Last two years, I just started damaging little parts. So I’m working on that and (not doing it) anymore.”

But he knows why fans would be upset with him.

“I understand, but the only part is that I have to be positive for the time,” he said. “I don’t have anything negative in myself. I’ll just give my best. If you like it, you like it. I’ll do my best.”