Braves slugger Marcell Ozuna isn’t washed up, after all

His future is brighter after strong 2023 campaign
Atlanta Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna walks to an indoor batting practice facility during spring training workouts at CoolToday Park, Monday, February, 19, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /



Atlanta Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna walks to an indoor batting practice facility during spring training workouts at CoolToday Park, Monday, February, 19, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /

NORTH PORT, Fla. — Marcell Ozuna was the worst everyday player in the majors in 2022, the year after he’d served an MLB suspension for domestic violence. Those developments put his baseball future in question. The Braves had paid him nearly $32 million for those two lost years and probably would have sent him packing if they didn’t still owe him $32 million for 2023 and 2024.

Ozuna showed up at spring training last year and admitted that he hadn’t worked hard to get ready for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. He said he put in the work for 2023, cleared his mind and blocked out the jeers from Braves fans who’d turned against him. Ozuna said he even planned to play some left field after improving his arm strength.

That last part didn’t happen for Ozuna. It didn’t matter because he had one of the best-ever seasons by a full-time designated hitter.

Ozuna clubbed 40 home runs and produced 100 RBIs. Those were the most homers by a full-time DH since fellow Dominican David Ortiz hit 47 in 2005 for the Red Sox. Ozuna’s days of playing the field might be over, but it turns out he wasn’t washed up as a hitter.

The way Ozuna sees it, last season was proof that he still can produce at the plate like he did from 2014 to 2020 with the Marlins, Cardinals and Braves.

“I have a lot of time (left) to do what I’m doing for the last 10 years,” Ozuna said Monday after reporting for the start of spring training. “Right now, my mentality is ... don’t get in trouble no more and be the human being I’ve been in the past. Giving my best to my teammates, loving my teammates, loving my family.

“Wait (and) see what happens this year.”

If 2021 and 2022 were outliers for Ozuna, 33, then the Braves can expect to get a lot from him in 2024. Last year was Ozuna’s best full season since 2017, when he was an All-Star outfielder for the Marlins. Ozuna compiled 3.3 Wins Above Replacement over 144 games in 2023 while playing just 14 innings in the field.

That’s hard to do. Players who don’t play a position must hit great to offer value to their teams. During MLB’s expansion era (since 1961), players have compiled 3.3 WAR or better with 140 games or more at DH just 13 times. Ortiz did it three times and Edgar Martinez did it four times. Both players are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ozuna made good on his vow to bounce back after miserable seasons in 2021 and 2022.

“The numbers last year, God gave me an opportunity to be back,” Ozuna said. “I am happy for that and I deserve it because I worked (so) much to get those numbers. But I don’t look at numbers. I just go out there and have fun and give it my best.”

There were signs that Ozuna could become an adequate hitter again in 2023. He hit the ball hard the season before but had bad luck on balls in play. Plate discipline was the much bigger problem for Ozuna in 2022. Last season Ozuna hit the ball even harder while swinging at 10% fewer pitches outside of the strike zone.

The result was Ozuna’s best on-plate slugging percentage (.905) in a full season since the career-high .924 in 2017. Ozuna posted a 1.07 OBP during the 60-game 2020 season while nearly winning the triple crown. That prompted Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos to break from his usual pattern of not signing older players to long-term contracts.

The Braves won’t pick up the $16 million contract option for Ozuna in 2025. They can pay $1 million to buy out the final year of Ozuna’s deal. However, if Ozuna produces again this season there’s probably a chance the Braves would try to bring him back at a much lower figure than $16 million. There could be a decent market for Ozuna if he makes it to free agency, which seemed unfathomable a year ago.

Ozuna said he’s focused on staying healthy and giving his best for the Braves. But he acknowledged that he’s also motivated to show he deserves another contract. “That’s an important thing, too,” Ozuna said.

Ozuna revived his career in 2023. Braves fans who once heckled him now cheer his exploits, but the reputational hit from the domestic violence arrest in 2021 remains. Charges of assault by strangulation and battery against his wife from May 2022 were dropped after Ozuna completed a pretrial diversion program in Fulton County. Ozuna also pleaded no contest to driving under the influence following an arrest by Norcross police in August 2022.

Ozuna’s behavior and subsequent legal issues prevented him being around for the Braves’ run to the 2021 World Series title. Ozuna has never played in the Series over 10 MLB seasons. He said he welcomes the team’s “World Series or bust” mentality.

“It’s going to be a new experience and I want to taste it,” Ozuna said.

A year ago, it seemed very unlikely that Ozuna could help the Braves make it. Then he turned in a great season at the plate and was, by all accounts, a positive clubhouse influence in the clubhouse. Now Ozuna’s baseball future appears much brighter.