Friday, March 14, 2014
The mighty Giancarlo Stanton
By Jayson Stark
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Giancarlo Stanton's manager has never set out to lead the league in dramatic quotations. But when the subject turned to his right fielder, all of these blockbusters came out of Mike Redmond’s mouth in a span of like 20 seconds:
“This guy really hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he’s going to be yet,” the Marlins manager said of Stanton at one point Thursday.
“Giancarlo is going to have a big year,” Redmond said a few sentences later.
And then there was this pronouncement, which kind of got our attention:
“This guy can be the best hitter in baseball,” Redmond said, with an I’m not kidding, pal tone in his voice. “I know people talk about Miggy [Cabrera], and how he puts the ball in play and moves the ball around. But I’m telling you. This guy is going to have a big year this year. Big.”
OK then. Can we start those fantasy drafts immediately, please?
Oh. And one more thing. You might want to know that what the manager sees in Giancarlo Stanton, his general manager also sees.
“We know he’s got power,” Dan Jennings said. “But this year ... with the focus he’s brought this spring, the approach, I think you’re going to see the whole package. He’s high-energy and locked in.”
Hmmm. The total package, huh? From a guy who is still only 24 years old, has already led his league in slugging (in 2012) and last season became just the ninth player in history to hit 100 home runs in the first 400 games of his career? Whew.
But now we interrupt this euphoria for this important message from a scout who ranks as one of Stanton’s biggest fans and who has seen a lot of him this spring:
“I see what they see,” the scout said. “I also think he might walk 200 times.”
Unless the guys behind him rake up a storm, that is.
And those guys behind him, in case you’re curious, would be two fellows who have joined the Marlins to witness the Giancarlo Stanton Show up close for the first time this spring -- ex-Pirates first baseman Garrett Jones and former Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Or at least that’s the order the manager is leaning toward at the moment.
“We’re messing around with it,” Redmond said. “But that’s kind of how I envision it right now. I like it. It gives us a little depth behind Stanton. And it gives him a couple of other guys behind him who can put the ball in the seats.”
On one hand, Jones and Saltalamacchia would be the first to tell you they’re not going to be confused with, say, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli in those 4-5 slots. On the other hand, Jones did bop 27 homers and slug .516 as recently as two years ago. And Saltalamacchia did make 25 trots in only 405 at-bats himself in 2012.
So at the very least, they’re an upgrade, theoretically, over Logan Morrison and Justin Ruggiano, the Marlins’ most frequent occupants of the two spots behind Stanton last year. Wouldn’t you think?
But then again, Jones and Saltalamacchia are also the latest, greatest reason to ask a question that goes kind of like this:
Can anyone “protect” Giancarlo Stanton? Really?
Sure, said another scout: “Miguel Cabrera could protect him maybe.”
Right. Maybe. Even if you believe the whole concept of protection is a myth, Stanton feels like baseball’s biggest exception -- anecdotally if not statistically, anyway.
Asked if any hitter in baseball could truly protect a guy with bigger power than anyone in the sport, who plays on a team that scored 340 fewer runs than the Red Sox last year and occupies the toughest park on earth in which to hit a home run, Jennings replied:
“I don’t know how to answer that. If you look at last year, he only got five intentional passes. And I think that if you’d gone to him last year and asked him, he thought he was going to get pitched around a lot and he wouldn’t get pitches to hit. But that wasn’t the case.”
Wait. But maybe it was. According to FanGraphs, Stanton was thrown fewer pitches in the strike zone last season (just 38.2 percent) than he’d seen at any time in his career. And only that perpetually hacking Pablo Sandoval (33.9 percent) saw a lower percentage among all hitters in either league, for that matter.
Stanton also chased fewer non-strikes (just 30.5 percent) than he had at any time in his career, and drew a career-high 69 unintentional walks -- nearly twice as many as the year before (37).
So obviously, the Marlins needed some sort of veteran presence in back of him. And the two men they brought in are totally cool with taking on that responsibility.
“I’ve been in those situations where I’ve hit behind Big Papi,” Saltalamacchia said. “I’ve hit behind a couple of pretty good hitters. And one thing those guys always told me to focus on was to just do what you can do, control what you can control, don’t try to do too much. As a hitter, they know who’s behind them. You should know, because that’s how you’re going to get pitched.”
“He’s definitely as powerful as they come,” Jones said. “He’s a huge threat, and he scares a lot of people. So to get the opportunity to hit behind him, I’ve got to make them regret pitching around him if they do.”
Now we should probably mention here that Jones is hitting .125/.160/.250 this spring, with nine strikeouts and only three hits in 24 at-bats. And that Saltalamacchia’s slash line isn’t much better, at .158/.238/.316. But those numbers come with the standard it’s-only-spring-training disclaimer.
Stanton, on the other hand, is a dazzling .375/.423/.708, with more extra-base hits (four) than strikeouts (three). And the other day in Port St. Lucie, he hit one of spring training’s most insane homers, a shot so mammoth, it clanked halfway up the batter’s eye -- of the field behind the one he was playing on.
“He’s got the most power I’ve ever seen,” Jones said. “His hands, for as big as he is, he’s got a short, quick bat, and the ball just kind of explodes off his bat, like nobody I’ve ever seen. It almost makes you go, like, oh man. I don’t want to say it’s intimidating, but it’s pretty exciting to watch. You can try to compete with him, but it’s pretty much impossible.”
Uh, he’s got that right. Fortunately, the Marlins aren’t asking Jones to compete with the man hitting in front of him. All they ask is for him to do enough just to make the other team think about throwing The Mighty Giancarlo a strike every once in a while.
And if not, well, at least it could mean Garrett Jones will have a shot to drive in, oh, about 200 runs this year.
“There you go,” Jones said with a laugh. “If I could drive in 200, that would be awesome, too.”