Ozuna looking to land job in Marlins' outfield

Now healthy, 23-year-old is bidding to win starting position in center

Ozuna looking to land job in Marlins' outfield

JUPITER, Fla. -- Thumb taped and covered by a batting glove, Marcell Ozuna steps into the batters' box without any hesitation on the back fields at Roger Dean Stadium.

Upbeat and enthusiastic as ever, baseball is fun and games all over again for Ozuna.

In the middle of last season, the 23-year-old found himself dealing with a painful thumb injury, which required surgery and ended his season in late July.

Healthy, Ozuna is a frontrunner to win the Marlins' starting center field job.

"I feel OK," Ozuna said. "I feel ready to make the team, and have a good season."

Ozuna injured his thumb making a diving catch against the Rockies at Coors Field. The diagnosis was a ligament tear and an avulsion fracture.

In October, he was cleared to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic, where he played in 34 games and batted .277 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 141 at-bats.

Admittedly, Ozuna had some concerns when he first faced live pitching.

"I was a little scared," he said. "I was thinking the ball was going to hit me. But after one week passed, I felt better."

Now, in Spring Training the only sign that he had a thumb issue is the extra layer of tape he wears.

Power is expected to be part of Ozuna's game. But it is developing. In 70 big league games, he batted .265 with three homers and 32 RBIs.

Before he was called up from Double-A Jacksonville, he belted five homers in 10 games.

Ozuna's big league promotion came the day after Giancarlo Stanton went on the disabled list with a strained hamstring.

"He came up and did a nice job for us filling in," manager Mike Redmond said. "When Stanton was hurt, he played right. He plays a great right field. We asked him to move to center to keep his bat in the lineup. It was a fairly easy transition for him.

"For a guy who doesn't profile as your prototypical center fielder, body-wise, he did a nice job covering ground. He's got a great arm. He does give us that flexibility where he can play left field, center field and right field. We'll see how he does out there in Spring Training. He could be a good weapon for us."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter