Ozuna making strides, but staying in Minors

Marlins want to make sure outfielder sticks in Majors when he's called back up

Ozuna making strides, but staying in Minors

MIAMI -- The Marlins are struggling to score runs, and the player who was second on the team in home runs in 2014 remains in the Minor Leagues. So one of the hot topics the organization is dealing with is -- when will Marcell Ozuna be called back up?

Ozuna, who belted 23 homers and drove in 85 runs a year ago, was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans on July 5, after he was mired in a 1-for-36 rut with 14 strikeouts.

The Marlins continue to monitor the swings and approach of the 24-year-old, who was their Opening Day center fielder. Ozuna has heated up in New Orleans, batting .321/.368/.568 with four home runs, eight doubles and nine RBIs in his first 22 games.

"He's definitely making positive strides," Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "We're watching video every day."

With the Marlins slumping at the big league level, why not bring Ozuna up?

"The thing that we told him is, when he comes back, we don't ever want to send him down again," Hill said. "There were adjustments that needed to be made, mechanically, with his swing. He's making tremendous progress."

It's been a rough season overall for Ozuna, who is hitting .249/.301/.337 with four homers and 26 RBIs.

"I'll be hopeful that we'll see him soon, but I don't think he's quite where he needs to be in order for us to know, as well as you can know, that he's ready to be back and to stay," Hill said.

Another potential issue is Ozuna's service time. The outfielder is at two years, 73 days. To qualify as a Super 2 and be arbitration-eligible in 2016, he must have around two seasons plus 130 days.

If Ozuna returns before Aug. 8, it appears he would reach arbitration next year. If he is recalled after that date, he wouldn't be eligible for arbitration until 2017.

Either way, Ozuna still won't reach free agency until 2020.

So any potential service-time issue will not impact how many seasons he could be under team control, should he not sign a multiyear contract. The Marlins did approach Ozuna and his agent, Scott Boras, in the offseason about a long-term deal. But talks didn't go that far.

"The decision for him in the Minor Leagues is not service oriented," Hill said. "It's about him as a hitter, and being the hitter that we know he can be. The Marcell Ozuna that was up early had his struggles. I think he'd acknowledge that. We're trying to get him in a place mentally and physically."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.