I have seen some extraordinary young players in Florida this spring. Jason Heyward of the Braves. Rick Porcello of the Tigers. Lars Anderson of the Red Sox. In that group, the common denominators are skill and clear intelligence, whether it's Heyward's being the son of Dartmouth graduates, Porcello's being so decent he still calls coaches at North Carolina, or any literary discussion.
But Stanton is, well, not like anyone else. His father is Puerto Rican; he grew up in Pacoima, Calif. (Ritchie Valens' hometown), and he signed to go to USC as a tight end. "A lot of people didn't see a lot of him," the Marlins' Jim Fleming says. "He didn't do a lot of the showcases. He was a great football player at Notre Dame High School. He played basketball. But our scout Tim McDonnell did a great job."
In 2007, Florida took third baseman Matt Dominguez in the first round. They then bagged Stanton in the second round and signed him for $400,000.
A year later, when they were discussing obtaining Manny Ramirez, the Red Sox made a proposition: They would pay Manny's salary if the Marlins would do a Ramirez-Stanton swap.
Pittsburgh asked for Stanton in what would have been a three-way swap. Another nyet. The Pirates could have had some combination with Chris Coughlin and Jeremy Hermida that would have sent Jason Bay to Boston, they but preferred the Dodgers' offer.
One day this week, Stanton put on a BP show that outdid any Mark McGwire ever had in the Jupiter park. He can run, he can throw
And his presence is that of a Grady Sizemore, Derek Jeter or David Wright -- intelligent, well-spoken, respectful. "It's remarkable how he listens and studies," Florida hitting coach Jim Presley says. "Watch him during games. He's not fooling around. He's right at the [home plate] end of the dugout, studying everything, taking notes."
"That's the way I learned to approach all sports," Stanton says. "I was always taught to listen and learn. I always have played everything flat-out. That's the way to play."
He admits that when he was home after the 2007 season, "it was hard watching my friends play for SC. I loved everything about being a Trojan; I made a lot of friends who were there. But I love baseball, and I think I made the right choice."
As the Marlins have developed one of the best collections of young starting pitchers, they now have a core of big-time position prospects. First baseman-outfielder Logan Morrison was the MVP of the Florida State League -- where his numbers were better than those of Miguel Cabrera in his Jupiter season -- and tore up the Arizona Fall League. Dominguez is a monster talent. And there are more, like outfielder Scott Cousins, catcher Kyle Skipworth, outfielder John Raynor, Coughlin, first baseman Gaby Sanchez(205 walks, 200 strikeouts in his minor league career).
But first and foremost, there is Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton. "You think his talent is out of this world," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez says. "Then you spend time with him and you find out his person is even better."
Doctors might think Alex Rodriguez has a chance to get back to normal through rest and rehab and without surgery, but Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has to worry about the last nine years of A-Rod's contract; if the hip isn't properly fixed and his skills depreciate, it would be a bad business decision to worry most about 2009.
Doctors thought Chase Utley and Mike Lowell could rest and rehab. Utley hit his 27th home run Aug. 12 and hit three the rest of the season. Lowell hit his 11th homer June 18 and hit six the rest the season.
So A-Rod plays through this season, then needs the operation. What happens if he suffers further long-term problems for the remaining eight years of his contract? Remember, in 2010, the Yankees have more than $136 million tied up in players in their mid-to-late 30s: Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, A-Rod, A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia, Jorge Posada, Mark Teixeira -- without first base as an option for Rodriguez or Jeter.
The Cardinals' spring optimism is based on the health of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, who made 23 starts between them last season. "Put us down for 68 this season," says Wainwright, who has brought St. Louis a world championship. Carpenter has won a Cy Young Award. "If they are healthy, we have a good chance," says Albert Pujols, who feels close to full recovery from October elbow surgery. "They mean so much to us."
The Cardinals still have issues. Manager Tony La Russa has no idea who will close, unless he hands it to Ryan Franklin and hopes Chris Perez and/or Jason Motte will come on. Skip Schumaker, who last played the infield eight years ago (and it was shortstop), is trying to learn second base so La Russa can keep him in the leadoff spot and play Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick and Chris Duncan in the lineup every day.
"I'm still a work in progress," Schumaker says. "It's still fast for me. I'm learning where I'm supposed to be at all times. I'm learning on the double play. I'm fortunate Khalil Greene is so consistent getting me the ball, but we'll have to wait and see where I am in a couple of weeks."
Colby Rasmus is off to a slow start, admitting that he's jumping at everything while trying to show what he can do. "Once he lets the game come to him," says GM John Mozeliak, "he is going be a really good player."
Minnesota has essentially the same starting rotation as last season, when the Twins' starters were 64-48 and fourth in the AL in quality starts with 86. Their 2009 rotation costs $2 million. A report on Stephen Strasburg's outing for San Diego State this week: not one pitch under 98 mph, seven at 102. Washington has the first pick, and with Scott Boras as Strasburg's adviser, Nancy Pelosi may have to add some more pork to her bills to bring him to the Nation's capital.
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