Buzz building about Marlins slugger Mike Stanton
Sitting in the visitors’ dugout one afternoon last September,
Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel watched rain fall as
he gushed about the Florida Marlins’ precocious slugger, Mike
”He’s one of the best young hitters I’ve seen come along,”
Manuel said. ”The ball really jumps off his bat. He’s as strong as
anybody I’ve ever seen.”
Manuel went on like that for 15 minutes. Eventually the rain
stopped, the game began and Stanton struck out four times.
Oh well; no one ever claimed Stanton would get a hit every time
up. But there’s a buzz building about the 21-year-old right
fielder, whose propensity for prodigious homers is – dare we say
it? – Ruthian. Or Mantlesque.
Or at least Pujols-ish.
”It makes BP-watching a lot more fun,” teammate Gaby Sanchez
said. ”We’re catching our groundballs and Mike will come up, and
you’re like, ‘Hold on a sec. I don’t want to miss this.”’
Stanton was called up from Double-A to make his big-league debut
last June. His first home run was a grand slam, and in 100 games
hit 22 homers, several of the tape-measure variety. He batted .259,
including .312 with eight homers in the final month of the season,
giving the Marlins reason to believe they’re set in the cleanup
spot for however long they can afford Stanton.
Others agree. One national publication even predicted he’ll be
this year’s National League MVP.
”He’s got awesome power,” said Marlins special adviser Jack
McKeon, not one for hyperbole. ”With a little maturity and better
pitch recognition, he’s going to be something special.”
Some sluggers make the ball sound different off their bat. Hall
of Famer Tony Perez, a Marlins executive, said Stanton’s bat sounds
different even before he makes contact.
”When you’re around the cage when he hits BP, you can hear the
bat: ”Sssswwwwhhhhh,”’ Perez said. ”It’s bat speed. Only a few
players have that.”
Then there’s the flight of the ball. Many of Stanton’s homers
leave a lasting impressive, such as the shot he launched last week
that dented a video scoreboard 40 feet beyond the left-center field
wall at the Marlins’ spring training ballpark.
A right-handed hitter, he made upper-deck drives in batting
practice commonplace last season, and cleared a building beyond
center field during the first week of spring training in February.
Mark McGwire cleared that same building in 1998, the year he hit 70
”When a guy hits a ball that far, it doesn’t matter how many
times you see it, it still has that little wow factor,” Sanchez
said. ”I can watch Stanton do it for the next 10 years and it’s
still going to be, ‘Golly, that’s unbelievable.”’
Stanton said he’s not trying for tape-measure homers and is
satisfied with clearing the fence.
”It’s all worth the same,” he said. ”The length is for the
fans. I don’t care; otherwise I would be trying to do it every
single pitch. It’s not good to try to hit it farther and farther
and farther. I figured that out once I got to professional ball.
You need a sense of discipline.”
Even so, when spring training began, Stanton came out swinging.
In the first game, he homered on the first pitch he saw. Then he
strained his right quadriceps in the next inning and was sidelined
His first game back, he homered twice and drove in seven
”Unbelievable,” said 2009 NL batting champion Hanley Ramirez,
who’s glad to have Stanton batting behind him this season – and
perhaps for years to come.
The Marlins promoted Stanton to the cleanup spot this spring
even though he never hit fourth last year and seldom did in the
”I’ve hit third or fifth or sixth,” he said. ”I’ll be in
bigger situations a lot more often, and I’ll be ready to step up
and take care of business. Otherwise the spot’s not going to be
mine for long.”
At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, he looks the part. And with an
appetite that leaves teammates in awe, he’s still growing.
New Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, fired as the Marlins’ manager
last June, watched Stanton make the climb through the minors. They
crossed paths again during spring training.
”I ran into him, and oh my goodness – he has put on another 10
pounds of muscle,” Gonzalez said. ”Holy cow. I guess that’s what
maturity does. Or reaching puberty.”
Yes, Stanton’s still a youngster, and he’s still learning when
not to swing. He struck out 123 times last season and endured an
0-for-31 slump in August. In 324 minor-league games, he had 371
But when he connects, the ball can go a long way. He hits homers
to the opposite field; he hits line-drive homers; hit hits homers
with plenty of hang time.
”It reminds me of when Miguel Cabrera came up,” Perez said.
”Miguel came up from Double-A the same way at the same age. He
turned out to be a pretty good player. Mike has the same potential
to be a great player.”
And so the buzz builds – but slowly. After all, Stanton’s on a
team often overlooked and playing in front of 65,000 empty
The Californian said he was recognized by strangers only once or
twice during the offseason. But his jersey is starting to sell in
souvenir shops, which he finds amazing.
”It still blows my mind that I’m even in the majors,” he said.
”You dream about this all your life, and you’re living it. It’s
The Marlins are certain Stanton’s for real. They figure any
hitter who can dent a scoreboard is going to have a big impact on
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this