Mike Stanton was already one of the most dangerous hitters in the minors coming into the season. Now it looks like opposing pitchers have even more reason to be afraid.
Stanton has 80 raw power on the 20-80 scale. He hit 39 home runs last year as an 18-year-old with low Class A Greensboro. He’s on pace for another 30-plus homers this season with 12 in 47 games. He’s hitting .290/.383/.580 in the high Class A Florida State League, which doesn’t take too kindly to power hitters. He’s the best athlete in the Marlins’ system, with the arm to play right field and enough speed for now to occasionally spot up in center field despite checking in at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds.
But forget about Stanton’s physical abilities for a minute. What’s remarkable is what appears to be tremendous improvement in his approach at the plate and his ability to make contact, which has been the primary concern clouding his forecast.
Stanton struck out in 28 percent of his trips to the plate last year, racking up 153 strikeouts in 540 plate appearances. Players who strike out in more than a quarter of their PAs in low Class A tend not to turn into good big leaguers. Ryan Howard, Bill Hall and Travis Hafner are the exceptions, but more often they end up like Wily Mo Pena, Calvin Pickering and Ruben Rivera, all former Top 100 Prospects with K rates above 25 percent in low Class A. Even the players we think of as strikeout machines—Adam Dunn, Mike Cameron and Sammy Sosa, all of whom have at one point led their respective leagues in strikeouts—never struck out that frequently against low Class A pitching.
But Stanton is proving to be an unusual case. He was raw coming out of high school, having split his prep years between baseball, basketball and football, a sport he considered playing at the Division I level before signing with the Marlins in 2007 as a second-round pick. Growing five inches between the end of his sophomore year and the beginning of his junior year in high school made for some adjustments with his coordination as well.
In most cases, month-to-month trends are nothing more than misleading noise in small sample sizes. But with Stanton, scouts who saw him in high school or early last year—and then saw him again either in the second half last year or at some point this season—have filed reports on the strides that Stanton has made with his approach.
Here are the raw numbers, keeping in mind that his 2008 numbers were all in low Class A, while the 2009 data is all from high Class A:
|MIKE STANTON, MONTH-BY-MONTH
|PLAYER||PA||K||BB||K Rate||BB Rate|
And for the more visual-based folks:
Stanton spent the first two months of the 2008 season striking out in one-third of his trips to the plate. But since then, he has shown steady improvement, and scouts have taken notice. Stanton, who didn’t turn 19 until November, started striking out less and walking more. Part of the improved walk rate has nothing to do with Stanton’s approach but with the way opposing pitchers have been approaching him lately. But scouts say the young slugger also has been waiting for better pitches to hit, allowing his power to manifest itself in game situations.
He’s never going to have a short swing—when your arms are as long as Stanton’s are, it’s usually just not going to happen—so he’ll probably always be a high strikeout guy. But the Marlins have helped his bat take a more direct path to the baseball, which has helped him make contact with greater frequency.
“When he first signed, his stride was very linear, he was heavy to his front side and he would commit to a lot of balls,” Marlins hitting coordinator John Mallee said before the season. “And then being 6-foot-5, there’s so much length, so we tried to make him more compact and spread him out. (We) got him in his legs better, and then try to get those long levers short to the ball and long through the ball. So we lowered his hands a little bit in his launch, just made all his movements smaller and made the big long levers more compact.”
On top of that, scouts say Stanton also has shown more restraint against offspeed pitches outside of the strike zone.
“The more at-bats he got, the more experience he got, the better he got,” Mallee said. “From an approach standpoint, his pitch recognition, he struck out a lot in the first half, and as the season went on, his identification of the strike zone improved just from reps and just from playing. Once he got more into the strike zone, then the power really showed up.”
Last month, Stanton walked nearly as often as he struck out. At this time last year, that would have been unthinkable. Smart money is on some regression there going forward, but he’s shown the aptitude to make adjustments and become a more well-rounded player.
If Stanton can maintain this improvement in controlling the strike zone (or perhaps even improve upon it), then one of the game’s best young hitting prospects has become even more dangerous.
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