|The Marlins' Mike Stanton stands alone as a 2011 home run leader on the upside of his career. (Getty Images)|
Look at the home run leaders. Just look at them!
Why here we are, on an ice run for Labor Day Weekend, college football fast approaching, and nobody's even on pace for 60. Fifty? Nuh-uh. Bathroom's down the hall on the right, fellas. Specimen jar's awaiting. See ya in a bit.
Albert Pujols, finishing one of his quietest seasons before diving into noisy free-agent waters, and Matt Kemp lead the NL at 31. Look what Kemp can do post-Rihanna. And Tuesday night, they were joined at the top of the list by Mike Stanton of the Marlins.
Still too young and too fresh for a much more dramatic description, Stanton is the young face of Florida's future. You know, the one who was not dispatched to Triple-A as punishment for going rogue on the Marlins this summer. The one whose Twitter account (@MikeStanton27) is about as outrageous as a '78 Ford Pinto. Sample tweet: "Your actions are your perception." And: "I prefer Twinkies over ding dongs!"
But, oh, those swings. Those fabulous, muscular swings. They've put Stanton just around the corner from descriptions that soon will range from creative to jaw-dropping.
Start here: As disappointing playoff races disappear over the horizon, one of the most fascinating things to watch down the stretch may well be how many baseballs Stanton can make disappear over the horizon.
Because if Stanton can win the NL homer crown, he will become just the third player in major-league history to win a league homer title at 21 years of age or younger.
Eddie Mathews did it for the Milwaukee Braves in 1953 when he slugged 47 at the age of 21.
Tony Conigliaro won one while with the Red Sox in 1965 when he hit 32 at 20.
"I try and put everybody in those shoes: Where were they at 21?" Marlins hitting coach Eduardo Perez says.
Wait, wait, I can answer that! Maybe trying to clean the mustard stain from a tie following an awkward job interview over lunch?
"He's way ahead of the track where people thought he'd be," Perez continues. "He's dedicated, smart, a real student of the game. Every day he's getting better, not only offensively, but defensively."
|Stanton's arm is almost as legendary as his bat. He's second in the NL with nine assists. (Getty Images)|
"He is unlike anything I've ever seen in person," veteran teammate Greg Dobbs says. "I didn't get to see Mark McGwire a lot because he was before my time. Jose Canseco, Carlos Delgado ... what he is able to do is extremely impressive. And it's not just his strength and size, it's his work ethic."
Florida's second-round pick in 2007, Stanton stands 6-5 and is listed at 248 pounds. Good-sized, yes -- and plenty big enough to suddenly dwarf Atlanta's Jason Heyward, whose legend exploded in the spring of 2010 but who, so far, has had nowhere close to the staying power of Stanton.
Even stuck in the baseball boondocks of Florida, Stanton's legend is taking root.
According to www.hittracker.com, 26 of Stanton's 30 homers have traveled 400 feet or more, and 16 have rocketed 420 feet or more (and how about four at 450 or more?).
Stanton leads the NL with 12 "No Doubt" home runs, trailing only Bautista (13) in the majors. What are "No Doubt" homers? "Means the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet AND landed at least 50 feet past the fence," reads the glossary at hittracker.com. "These are the really deep blasts."
"I played with Bo Jackson," Perez says. "And I played with McGwire. He's in that same sentence, let's put it that way.
"At 21, Mac didn't have this power. Bo always was big and strong. Mike's got so much to learn, but it's ridiculous how well he's handling this right now."
Manager Jack McKeon, who, of course, has seen every player who's ever played in the majors (OK, so it only seems that way), also puts Stanton's power with that of McGwire in "modern times."
Fine. But McKeon is 80, so let's have some fun: Pre-modern times, Jack ... anybody Stanton brings to mind?
"I'd say he's in the class of Harmon Killebrew," says McKeon, who managed the Killer with the Kansas City Royals in 1975. "You know if you're the other manager that he's got a chance to beat you. You know every time up, he's got a chance to hit it out of the park.
"He's 21 years old, and they're walking him. And he's not even to the top of his game yet."
Though Stanton ranks only tied for 12th overall in the NL with 58 walks, 27 of those have come since the All-Star break. He ranks third in the NL since then. As it is, he leads the Marlins in homers, RBI, slugging percentage and extra-base hits.
At 30 taters today, Stanton is tied with Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx for the sixth-most before September by a player under the age of 22. According to Stats, Inc., the only five with more are Mathews (43, 1953), Frank Robinson (35, 1956), Mel Ott (33, 1929), Alex Rodriguez (33, 1996) and Pujols (31, 2001).
Scary thing for opponents is, indications are, it's only the beginning.
"He's not a guy who hits them down the line," Perez says. "He uses the big part of the park -- left-center to right-center -- and if you add up the distances of his home runs, I guarantee you he's got more distance to his than anybody else.
"And a lot of balls he's missing now, he won't miss in a month. And a lot of balls he misses in a month, he won't miss next year."