Baseball / Sports

Marlins' Stanton impresses with more than power

It's the best show in baseball every time Giancarlo Stanton steps to the plate.

Even his Miami Marlins teammates are humbled but no less entertained watching the most powerful hitter in the game defy physics in driving baseballs beyond the reaches of mortal men.

"He's like a super hero," first baseman Garrett Jones said. "He's built like a Greek warrior. He has had a couple of big home runs to give us a lead, win some ballgames. He's just like that folk hero. It's pretty cool. I've seen a lot of guys with power, but he's on a notch above anybody."

Considering the mystique of home run hitting that dates to Babe Ruth, it was surprising that Stanton was only fourth among National League outfielders in early All-Star voting. That can be attributed in large part to the Marlins' limited fan base locally and the team's low profile nationally.

But it is still difficult to miss Stanton's monster mashes on the highlight shows, especially this week when he wore that arm sleeve with the American flag pattern on Memorial Day to launch one at Nationals Park that nearly reached the Washington Monument.

Stanton has already hit six home runs of 440 feet or farther this season -- one that traveled 484 is the longest in the majors. No one else has more than three.

Marlins manager Mike Redmond said that Stanton is putting together a MVP-caliber season, but all of the national dialogue is about speculating when the Marlins will trade him because they can't afford to pay him. The latest trade rumors link Stanton to the Red Sox and Cardinals.

Meanwhile, Stanton, who can't become a free agent until after the 2016 season, is at 24 still uncovering the talent that will ultimately land a mega contract.

"That's scary to think about and what he's been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. There's still room to get better," Redmond said this week. "When he continues to swing at strikes and gets pitches and gets into favorable counts ... wow, watch out. As much damage as he's doing now, he could do even more damage."

Stanton shrugged off the All-Star voting in about the time it takes for one of his homers to reach the seats, saying, "Your play should be what takes you there, not everything else."

That is typical for the Marlins slugger, preferring to let his performance speak for him. Likewise, questions about his contract status or the challenge of hitting home runs in spacious Marlins Park are met with the same purse-lipped scowl that must give pitchers nightmares.

Expectations are that Stanton eventually will find a home in a more hitter-friendly park. He has made it known he is most comfortable in his home state, California.

After hitting a game-winning home run on the recent trip to San Diego, he said, "It's the Cali air. I grew up breathing it."

Nonetheless, he has hit nine of his 15 home runs in Miami. But the homers are only part of why this is developing into a ground-breaking season for Stanton. With a major league-leading 49 RBI (through Wednesday), he has two games to become the first Marlin to reach 50 before June 1.

That includes 24 go-ahead or game-winning RBI, the most in the majors. A .271 career hitter, Stanton is batting .318 and has already had a 17-game hitting streak.

"Just from playing against Stanton the past few years, I've noticed this year his approach -- laying off pitches and short swing to the ball -- he's definitely made adjustments. He's really turned himself from not just a guy who's going to hit a long ball but a guy that can hit the ball to all fields," Jones said.

The overlooked aspect of Stanton's game is the improvement he has shown in right field. There was the full-extension grab recently at Marlins Park. He had two assists in Wednesday's win, including grabbing a sinking liner on the run in right-center, whirling and making a one-hop throw to first for a double play.

Stanton's admirers include Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, who posed for a photo with the young slugger in San Diego and tweeted, "With my man (at)Giancarlo818." The two are similarly built, multi-sport talents, but Winfield, despite 465 homers, didn't possess the raw power that Stanton exhibits.

Third baseman Casey McGehee marvels at the strength Stanton imparts to virtually every ball he hits.

"It's not even the homers; some of the singles he hits, seeing the (fielders') reactions as the ball goes by them. It's ridiculous how hard he's hitting the ball. He seems like he's getting better at recognizing pitches and staying within his zone," McGehee said. "The scary thing is he's still getting better."

Though noncommittal about his future, Stanton is clearly happier this season with the Marlins in contention for the first time in his career and more help around him in the lineup than in previous seasons. McGehee, hitting behind Stanton, has the most clutch hits in the majors.

Considering the uncertainty of his future in Miami, Marlins fans better enjoy him while they can. A few All-Star votes of appreciation couldn't hurt.

(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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