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|Mike Stanton, 20, had three hits in his major league debut for the Marlins on Tuesday.|
“"I'm trying to be the best baseball player I can, to learn from what I see and get better every day,'' Stanton said. "I don't want to be thought of as just a guy who just hits the ball far.'' He's laying a brick-by-brick foundation to make it happen. During spring training, Stanton's fellow Marlins noticed that he would set the pitching machine to throw him one hellacious slider after another. When the machine dropped in a gift hanger every seventh or eighth pitch, Stanton would uncoil and knock the bejeesus out of it. In 52 games with Jacksonville this year, Stanton hit 21 homers and slugged .726. Almost as impressive, he posted a strikeout-walk ratio of 53-44 and an on-base percentage of .441. Before Stanton made the jump from Double-A ball to the majors, Jacksonville manager Tim Leiper told Gonzalez, "He'll screw a play up, but he won't do it twice." That's a tribute to Stanton's routine and attention to detail. When Stanton isn't lifting weights, stretching in the trainer's room or taking his cuts in the cage, he's probably working on his outfield jumps or studying angles off the wall. Dave Collins, Florida's first base coach, sees a world of difference between Stanton's raw defense and baserunning in spring training and the skills on display now. "He's very coachable, he's humble and he's hungry at the same time,'' Collins said, "and that's very rare because his talent is off the charts. He does the dirty work, and that's what separates this kid. He's one in a million from what I've seen.'' The back story adds to his appeal. Stanton's given name is Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton, and as he recently told Fort Lauderdale columnist Dave Hyde, "I'm a quarter-black, a quarter-Puerto Rican and half-Irish.'' Stanton's parents gave him an Italian first name, he said, because "they just liked the name Giancarlo.'' After distinguishing himself as an outfielder, tight end and basketball forward at Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks, Calif., Stanton received an offer to play football and baseball at Southern California. But he spurned the Trojans to sign with Florida for a $475,000 bonus as a second-round pick in the 2007 draft. The story has often been told, but bears repeating because it's so mind-blowing: The Marlins considered taking Heyward in the first round -- and could have had Heyward and Stanton manning their outfield corners right now -- but used their first draft pick that year on Matt Dominguez, a high school third baseman from California. Although Heyward has the early jump on Stanton in the Rookie of the Year sweepstakes, Stanton's debut was certainly memorable. First he put on the obligatory show in batting practice at Citizens Bank Park while barely trying, outdistancing Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla with 2-iron shots to left field. "He can miss a pitch and hit it 430 feet,'' Helms said. "With most guys, that's the longest ball they'll ever hit.'' Then the game began, and Stanton beat out two infield hits and lined a 97 mph Jose Contreras fastball the opposite way for a single. At 20 years, 212 days, he became the youngest player to amass three hits in a debut since Danny Ainge went 3-for-4 for the Toronto Blue Jays in May 1979. If anything impresses Stanton's fellow Marlins more than his pop, it's his calorie consumption. Helms took Stanton out for a couple of get-acquainted dinners in spring training, and came away thinking that the kid had the maturity and world view of a 26-year-old rather than someone three years removed from his senior prom. Between the appetizers and dessert, something else became readily apparent: While Stanton hits the ball like Herman Munster, he cleans a plate like "Beverly Hillbillies'' bumpkin Jethro Bodine. "It's amazing how much food he can consume,'' Helms said. "He's going to enjoy the spreads here. We might want to make him wait until the end of the line. If he goes first, they might not have a lot left over.'' That's true, concedes Stanton, who is partial to grilled chicken breasts, but made sure to seek out a good cheesesteak joint during the Marlins' series in Philadelphia this week. "I don't eat a bunch of things,'' Stanton said. "I just eat a few things a lot.'' And when he hits a baseball just right, it stays gone for a very long time.
[Mike Stanton] can miss a pitch and hit it 430 feet. With most guys, that's the longest ball they'll ever hit.” -- Marlins third baseman Wes Helms
Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License To Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via e-mail.