|A healthy Josh Johnson will be critical to the Marlins' success this season. (US Presswire)|
JUPITER, Fla. -- Just about everything around here is new, so it should surprise no one that the Marlins' wunderkind slugger has a new name. Mike Stanton now goes by Giancarlo, his given first name, which should make him no less intimidating to pitchers around the National League. He's cool with Mike if anyone slips, as he's not the attention seeker in this circus.
But even here, where there's a beautiful brand-spanking new stadium, cool new logo (not everyone may agree), new motor-mouth manager plus three new big-time free agents, the dynamic batting titleist at shortstop, quirky left-handed starting pitcher and even quirkier closer -- Giancarlo Stanton stands out.
The power is off-the-charts crazy (crazy is a word is that might be heard around the Marlins), and it was on display in the camp's first BP session when he smoked one over Frederick Small Road, with nothing else small about it. The overall ability is also just nuts (another common word around the Ozzie Guillen-led Marlins). Some scouts say Stanton has the greatest raw power in baseball, and get this, in wind sprints, only Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and an unknown guy, also with "80 speed," Kevin Mattison, can outdo him. On another team, Giancarlo might finish first. But the power is all anyone notices.
"A lot of people say he's going to hit a 550-foot home run or 690. No," Guillen said, "I just want 40 that go 320. We don't need anybody to have a wacky MVP, Cy Young year." (Wacky is another word that will be heard around the new Marlins.)
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That's all, just 40 bombs. That'll tell you what they think of Giancarlo, whose own stated goal is the more mundane "smart, productive at-bats."
Anyway, who else gets a baseline conservative estimate of 40 dingers, and is playing home games in an expansive new park, which by all accounts has a playing field that covers most of South Florida? Stanton said it's big "number-wise" but he performed a little test recently, and found that the ball, with the windows closed beyond center field, "flies a little bit."
That tends to happen when Giancarlo gets hold of one. The really scary part about him is that he was mainly seen as a wide receiver at football factory Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame High School until a Marlins scout took notice at the Long Beach "area code" games, and the Fish took a chance on the player that could become the biggest star in the game, possibly the next Pujols.
"It's the most raw power I've ever seen, and he's just scratched the surface," said Logan Morrison, who's played with Giancarlo every step of the way. "I see how far he's come. It's very cool. When the mental part of his game catches up to the physical, he's going to be the best player in the game."
Not sure it matters to this sweetheart of a kid, but otherworldly talent or not, Giancarlo still gets to blend into the background now that Ozzie and Co. have taken center stage. Last year, the big sideshow was Morrison's Twitter account (@LoMoMarlins), which occasionally irked the higher-ups for its borderline humor. Isn't it funny what you can get away with when you're Guillen, who intermingles his considerable wit and wisdom in between a seemingly day-long stream of profanity?
Even Guillen is vying for center stage here, where there are, shall we say, characters aplenty. New closer Heath Bell, who's been hidden away in San Diego, is right near the top of the list with his constant talking and dancing. Morrison notes that when Bell salsas to the tunes of Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes, "he's got a nice little jiggle going," that is, for a thick country boy. Bell's wacky ways were seen on his All-Star mound slide, but even LoMo said, "I didn't know how nuts he was ... I like it."
This circus has way more than three rings, though.
"I'm not out to be the crazy one this year," Morrison said, cognizant that the competition is stiff.
Carlos Zambrano is here because his Cubs teammates and the organization grew tired of his temper and his antics, though Zambrano, who'll be the fifth starter, appears to be off to a strong start by showing up in terrific shape. Ramirez, almost as talented as Stanton (with Reyes, the Marlins have the most talented everyday trio in baseball), tested almost all the previous managers with his petulance and occasional indifference but so far seems like the happiest guy in the game even though his new fast friend Reyes swiped shortstop from him. (One teammate warns not to read too much into Hanley's happiness, pointing out he's like that every spring.)
Bounce-back ... Hanley Ramirez, SS: Hanley Ramirez had a miserable first half last season, and just when he started to get untracked, he suffered a shoulder injury that led to season-ending surgery. As the season progressed, Ramirez adjusted and started hitting more line drives and flyballs, and his batting average and power numbers rose accordingly. Even though his overall stats were pale compared to his norms, a good sign for Ramirez was that his home run per flyball rate was not much lower than usual. As long as his timing and mechanics are sound, Ramirez showed he can still hit for power, and given the strength of his midseason performance, owners have reason for optimism. Though his recovery from surgery and transition to third base might not go smoothly, it's still a huge risk to pass on the type of production that Ramirez provided over his first five seasons with the Marlins and even part of last year. Ramirez is still worthy of a second-round pick.
Head-to-Head hero ... Gaby Sanchez, 1B: Gaby Sanchez was an All-Star last season, largely on the basis of the .322/.401/.520 line he put up through the end of May. For those two months, Sanchez was getting home runs and hits on balls in play at rates far beyond his established norms. He came down to earth over the final four months of the season, and at 28, it's unlikely Sanchez is going to develop into someone who hits over .300 with 25-plus home runs. While he is a low-end mixed league option for Rotisserie owners, the skill set that Sanchez clearly owns makes him far more valuable in Head-to-Head. What we know Sanchez can do is hit doubles and draw walks. That makes him a solid middle-round pick in standard mixed Head-to-Head leagues. -- Al Melchior
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Yes, indeed, there's a lot going on here, and we're not even talking about the former closer Juan Carlos Oviedo, whose name change back from Leo Nunez was a bit more serious than Giancarlo's.
Guillen maintains he can work with anyone, and the trick may be that they know they aren't going to out-crazy him. Guillen pointed out he once worked successfully with Carl Everett, and that convinced the room. But Guillen also knows that everyone is happy on March 2.
"Hopefully we love each other in July, too," Guillen said, showing that wisdom of his. They've got a shot, too. The reality is, Ramirez is probably better off moving to third base now, whether Reyes was imported or not. Reyes seems even more peppy than he did in New York. "He has that energy, that aura," Morrison said.
Southpaw Mark Buehrle came from Chicago's South Side with Guillen to give the Marlins the No. 2 pitcher they needed between ace Josh Johnson and solid, mid-rung starters Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez. Bell, for all his craziness, is a proven ninth-inning man. Johnson, noticeably normal, is feeling like himself so far after missing most of last year with shoulder tendinitis, and most see him as the real key to the season, their best way to match up with the pitching-strong, favored Phillies.
While the distractions may add up, the ability is undeniably immense. The talent in the room seems overwhelming, and consider that they also tried hard to land Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Yoenis Cespedes, offering $201 million, $99 million and $36 million, respectively. (A friend of Pujols' said the failure to offer the no-trade clause killed the Marlins' chances, even before the Angels blew them away). Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who learned some of his baseball from George Steinbrenner and is himself quite the character, did spend $191 million on the trio of big-time free agents, adding to a team that already had some extraordinary folks.
"It's a whole new look. We've just got to put the pieces together and we'll be all right," Stanton said.
That will be up to Ozzie, who has a four-year deal but understands Loria's expectations are even higher than usual. (Though Ozzie insists they aren't higher than his own.)
"Jerry already did his job," Guillen said, turning serious for a second. "My job is not to let him down."