Monday February 24th, 2020 6:10AM

Braves hoping Ozuna poised for repeat of career-best season

By Charles Odum
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

ATLANTA (AP) — Marcell Ozuna doesn't have to match his career-best numbers of 2017 or even meet the standards set by Josh Donaldson last season to make the Atlanta Braves feel good about their investment in the outfielder.

Ozuna only needs an average season as Atlanta's new cleanup hitter to help the Braves' offense enjoy another productive season.

Still, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos dares to dream that Ozuna's 2020 season will be far more than average.

“We'd be happy with what he did the last few years, but we think there's that upside in him to be even better,” Anthopoulos said Tuesday night after the Braves signed Ozuna, one of the top remaining free agents, to the $18 million, one-year deal.

With Donaldson hitting cleanup in 2019, the Braves ranked third in the NL and seventh in the majors in runs scored. The Braves made a late bid to re-sign Donaldson, who instead signed a $92 million, four-year deal with Minnesota.

Donaldson hit .259 with 37 homers and 94 RBIs in his one season with Atlanta. He provided lineup protection for first baseman Freddie Freeman, who posted career-best power totals with 38 homers and 121 RBIs.

The 29-year-old Ozuna hit .241 with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs for St. Louis last season. Anthopoulos believes Ozuna could come close to his career-best season with Miami in 2017, when he hit .312 with 37 homers and 124 RBIs.

A repeat of that 2017 production would place Ozuna in position for a bigger free-agent contract next offseason. It also could help the Braves contend for their third straight NL East title.

“He's been an elite offensive performer and he's someone we think can get back to that,” Anthopoulos said. “He's still been good the last few years but we think he can take one more step and have the opportunity and the potential to be the guy he was in 2017 with Miami.”

There is reason to believe Ozuna's production will improve this season. His career batting average is .272. His average last season was the lowest of his career despite ranking among the major league leaders in the highest percentage of hard-hit balls, according to Statcast.

Ozuna played in only 131 games last season but still posted his second-highest totals for homers and RBIs. He missed 28 games in the middle of the season with fractured fingers on his right hand.

Ozuna will play left field. Ronald Acuña Jr. also will be a fixture in the outfield, playing either of the other two spots. Anthopoulos said the resulting glut of outfielders — Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall — will be settled this spring. A trade is possible.

There could be more competition in the outfield, with two of the team's top prospects — Cristian Pache and Drew Waters — playing that position. Each finished the 2019 season with Triple-A Gwinnett.

The one-year deal with Ozuna creates a possible opening for Pache or Waters in 2021. However, Anthopoulos left open the possibility of working out a long-term deal with Ozuna.

“I think this is a very good opportunity for him to play to his potential with a good team, a good lineup," Anthopoulos said. “Obviously, there would be the potential this could be a longer deal over time.”

© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Braves hoping Ozuna poised for repeat of career-best season
The Atlanta Braves would be happy if their newest signee, outfielder Marcell Ozuna, has an average season by his standards this season. Still, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos dares to dream that Ozuna's 2020 season will be far more than average.
2:43PM ( 29 minutes ago )
Georgia Tech’s 2020 football schedule unveiled
A Thursday night opener versus longtime Atlantic Coast Conference rival Clemson will kick off Georgia Tech’s 2020 football schedule, which was unveiled on Wednesday by the ACC.
10:46AM ( 4 hours ago )
Boys basketball: Nicholson leads CHS past WHall; Bluff, Banks win; Commerce, Lumpkin, Branch, LCA lose
Chestatee's Brenton Nicholson added six more 3-pointers to his yearly total...
7:50AM ( 7 hours ago )
Atlanta United deals MF Julian Gressel to D.C. United
Atlanta United has surrendered another big part of its MLS Cup-winning squad. The team traded midfielder Julian Gressel to D.C. United after failing to reach an agreement on a new contract.
6:06PM ( 21 hours ago )
Young, Huerter power Hawks to 123-110 win over Booker, Suns
​Atlanta's high-scoring backcourt combination of Trae Young and Kevin Huerter overwhelmed the Phoenix Suns in the Hawks' 123-110 win. Trae Young scored 21 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter.
8:44PM ( 1 week ago )
Irving returns with 21 points, Nets pound Hawks 108-86
Kyrie Irving scored 21 points in 20 minutes of an easy return from a two-month absence with an injured right shoulder, leading the Brooklyn Nets to a 108-86 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
8:44PM ( 1 week ago )
Professional Sports
Free agent OF Ozuna, Braves reach $18 million, 1-year deal
Free agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna and the Atlanta Braves have reached an $18 million, one-year deal. The deal puts Ozuna on the team he helped beat in the playoffs last October.
By Charles Odum
9:05PM ( 18 hours ago )
Hechavarría stays with Braves for $1 million, 1-year deal
Adeiny Hechavarría agreed to a $1 million, one-year contract to remain with the Braves, a move that boosted Atlanta's infield depth. The 30-year-old signed with the Braves on Aug. 16, two days after he was released by the New York Mets.
By The Associated Press
7:30PM ( 5 days ago )
Report: Twins, 3B Donaldson agree to $92M, 4-year deal
The Minnesota Twins and 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson have agreed to a $92 million, four-year contract, according to a person familiar with the deal...
By The Associated Press
8:19PM ( 1 week ago )
Truist Park new name for Atlanta Braves' ballpark
Truist Park is the new name of the Atlanta Braves' ballpark, It's been known as SunTrust Park the past three seasons. The change follows SunTrust bank's merger with BB&T to form Truist Financial Corp.
By The Associated Press
3:05PM ( 1 week ago )
Swanson, Foltynewicz reach deals with Braves
Shortstop Dansby Swanson and right-hander Mike Foltynewicz were among six Atlanta Braves who agreed to one-year contracts and avoided salary arbitration. Swanson agreed at $3.15 million and Foltynewicz at $6,425,000.
By The Associated Press
9:17PM ( 1 week ago )