56 and counting! Giancarlo Stanton's breakthrough season through the eyes of those witnessing it

Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

Giancarlo Stanton has hit 56 home runs off 48 pitchers in 13 major league parks this season. Those homers have traveled a combined distance of 4.42 miles at an average exit velocity of 108.9 mph, second highest in the majors behind New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge.

No one has kept a running statistical tab of Stanton's batting practice output. But if a ball off Stanton's bat dents a bleacher seat somewhere between 4:30 and 6 p.m., chances are Fredi Gonzalez delivered it. The Miami Marlins' third-base coach is Stanton's regular batting practice pitcher, and he keeps a mental catalogue of the screamers Stanton hits up the middle.

Each time one of those line drives approaches his face, Gonzalez gives a silent thank you to the inventor of the "L'' screen.

"If I go a little bit away, I know that ball is coming my way," Gonzalez said. "There have been 30 or 40 times when I've never seen the ball hit. The first time I see it is when it hits the ground off the screen. I've felt it come close. And then -- whoomp! -- it's right there.

"He hasn't knocked the screen over yet. He's not that cartoonish. But if I was a pitcher, I would be scared."

Stanton has already joined Ryan Howard of the 2006 Philadelphia Phillies (58), Jose Bautista of the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays (54) and Chris Davis of the 2013 Baltimore Orioles (53) as the fourth hitter in the past 12 years to crack the 50-homer mark. His output has slowed since he tied Rudy York's MLB record with 18 homers in August -- but if he can crank out another 2,000 feet worth of long balls in the coming week, things will get very interesting on the final weekend of the regular season.

Stanton needs five home runs to tie the total of 61 by Roger Maris that stood as the MLB record until Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and the PED era came along. He has emerged as an MVP candidate while playing for a Marlins team that's 72-80, 28th in baseball in attendance, and in the news primarily because the franchise is in the process of being sold from Jeffrey Loria to a group headlined by Derek Jeter. Stanton also has reignited divisions between baseball watchers who regard Bonds' single-season total of 73 homers as the MLB gold standard, and purists who view Maris' 61 as the legitimate, untarnished record.

What has it been like to watch a masher of Stanton's magnitude up close and personal, from the dugout and the clubhouse? How has Stanton grown since his MLB debut as a 20-year-old man-child in 2010? ESPN.com talked to the Marlins teammates, coaches, front-office staff and broadcasters who know him best for their thoughts on Stanton's memorable season and budding legacy.

The batting practice show

Brian Schneider, Marlins catching coach:

"I like it when he's taking batting practice and the other team comes out specifically to watch him. It's September and you have a lot of the call-ups, and guys come out early. The last time we played the Phillies, there were seven or eight guys out there early watching him in amazement. Their reaction was like our reaction watching him every day. It's crazy how far he hits it."

Fredi Gonzalez, Miami third-base coach:

"Ichiro has been in his group for the last month and a half. It's Stanton, Ichiro, Miguel Rojas and J.T. Realmuto -- or A.J. Ellis when J.T. doesn't play.

"When Ichiro is in his group, they play a game where it's 3-2, bases loaded. A home run counts as four runs. Ichiro has some juice, and one day he had an immaculate round. He had four home runs on four pitches. Stanton hit only three out, and Ichiro beat him.

"Usually he stays in the middle of the diamond and he'll hit balls to straightaway center. But that's the only time you'll see him get competitive and go a little extra. That's the only time I've seen him try to play Home Run Derby."

The home runs you just can't forget

Catcher A.J. Ellis:

"We played a series against the Rangers this year, and Jason Grilli was pitching. He pitches with a lot of intensity and emotion, and he struck out Giancarlo and gave a very dramatic fist pump and yell after he put him away.

"You could see from the way Giancarlo reacted coming off the field that he didn't really appreciate that. So in a rare outburst of emotion, the next day 'G' hit a home run off Grilli. He usually acts the same way on every single one. There's no bat flipping, no extracurriculars after he hits them. But on this one in particular, he gave a yell and threw his arms up in the air. You could tell that one felt pretty good."

Center fielder Christian Yelich:

"My favorite homer of his came against the Cubs and Jason Hammel [on June 16, 2014] at Marlins Park. It was a line drive down the right-field line on a curveball in the lefty batter's box. He's probably the only guy in baseball that can do that. That skill set is not something you see every day -- just being able to hit the ball that hard and being that strong.

"Everybody can hit balls far. The line drives, to me, are the more impressive ones. For most guys, that ball might be a single or a double. He hit it for a homer."

First baseman Justin Bour:

"I've seen a million of his homers by now and I've watched him in BP, but I've never seen anything like that one [off Hammel]. I'm pretty sure the first baseman jumped for it and the ball went out. You have the right fielder out there thinking he's going to make a play off the wall or field a one-hopper. You're thinking double off the bat or maybe even a single because he hit it that hard, and it went over the fence. There are so many to pick from. But you don't see people hitting low liners out to right field like that. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen on a baseball field."

Fredi Gonzalez:

"I bet you of the 55 he's hit, I've seen maybe 15 of them actually land. Because as soon as he hits them, you know they're gone. By the sound and the angle, you know they're gone. Then I just watch the third baseman and shortstop look at each other like, 'Did you see that?'

"He hit one in Atlanta to straightway center and [Braves third baseman] Rio Ruiz looked at me and went, 'Wow!' ... [Phillies third baseman] Maikel Franco had an expression that was like, 'Holy cow. I'm glad he didn't hit it on the ground.'"

Dave Van Horne, veteran broadcaster and Glenn Geffner's radio partner in Miami:

"When Stanton first started to hit these tape-measure jobs, we had never seen anything like it. One day in Denver, Geff and I walked out to the concourse, out to that food area, to find the spot where one of his home run balls landed. I had never seen anything, even at Coors, hit that far. And the amazing thing to me about Stanton is, he doesn't hit any wall-scrapers. There's nothing coming down on the back of the wall. Ninety percent of them seem to be absolute no-doubters."

Pitcher Dan Straily:

"You don't want to be anywhere but in the dugout for his at-bats. Every time he comes to the plate, it's captivating and you don't want to miss something awesome. You don't want to miss a ball leaving the stadium. With so many of the balls he hits, you're like, 'I've never seen a ball hit that far.' It's a fun at-bat to watch, every time it comes back around."

The evolution of Giancarlo

Tony Perez, Baseball Hall of Famer and a Marlins special assistant:

"I saw him when he was in Double-A ball and he won a home run contest. He hit the ball all over the place. I was there with Andre Dawson and I told him, 'Pack it up, let's go home.' I said, 'Wow, he's something special.'

"Now he's grown up and he's changed. He's more disciplined, and when he hits a streak, he's dangerous. I used to see Gary Sheffield hit unbelievable line drives and Willie Stargell hit those long home runs, but this guy is amazing the way he hits.

"In the beginning, he wanted to do everything himself. He was his own man. He believed in himself a lot and he didn't listen. Then this year he changed his stance. He closed up a little bit because he was wide-open and swinging at everything. He found himself working with the hitting coach [Mike Pagliarulo] and his assistant [Frank Menechino], and they've helped him a lot."

Manager Don Mattingly:

"One thing I've noticed this year is, he's more focused and irritated with himself over his at-bats when they're not good. You can feel the helmet [slamming] behind you. I don't really look around and see what guys are doing. But you hear it and you know when he's mad about his at-bats. That's been a little bit more open. I've seen him throw a bat down on the field, too, and I didn't see a lot of that last year.

"He's comfortable at the plate. This is the most I've seen him stay with something. I've seen him make a lot of changes in the past, with his hands, his feet, a toe tap and other little things. This little closed-off [stance] thing is something he's really stayed with.

"He's definitely not chasing as much. You still see some chase in there, but you see a lot more focus within an area of the plate. He's making guys pay. He'll miss some balls that he fouls back and you say, 'He just missed that.' But there was a section of the season when he wasn't missing anything. It was like, 'Holy cow, this is ridiculous.' It's something I've never seen."

Straily on Stanton's 14 first-inning home runs:

"He went through a stretch earlier this year where it seemed like he would ground out to shortstop the first at-bat every single at-bat. The guy was so frustrated, knowing he could get this [pitcher] and essentially he just missed. It sounds weird saying, 'A ground ball to shortstop and he just missed.' But with that guy, he clearly just missed. It was definitely the right angle and the right part of the field to use, and he's used to hitting homers.

"Then suddenly he made an adjustment in his first at-bat of the game, and when he [got hot] a lot of his homers came in the first inning. It was cool to see how he saw an area of his game that he wasn't elite at, and he was so focused every at-bat. He put a little more emphasis on that very first one, and those ground balls to shortstop started becoming homers."

Fredi Gonzalez:

"I kind of joke with the guys. I told [Nationals third baseman] Anthony Rendon, 'After he strikes out the first time, he usually lays a bunt down the second at-bat.' Early in the year, [Mets third baseman] Wilmer Flores was playing back and Stanton hit a ground ball and it was a backhand. Flores couldn't get the glove down fast enough and the ball hit him on the instep. I couldn't stop laughing.

"You know what he also has? He has carry on his ball. There have been a few times when he hits one and we have runners on first and second, and I'm watching to see if the ball is off the wall or the warning track, and you see the outfielders and it keeps carrying and carrying. The next thing you know, it's 10 rows deep. We have a saying in baseball, 'It stays hit.' Some guys hit the ball and it kind of dies in the gap. His ball stays hit."

Facing Stanton


"Greg Maddux had a quote once. He said when he found himself in a tough situation, he didn't try to throw harder. He tried to locate better. You see so many people try to muscle up on Giancarlo and end up leaving the ball over the heart of the plate. If you watch a guy who's throwing 90 or 91, all of a sudden he's throwing 94 against Giancarlo thinking that's going to work.

"You're better off trying to just locate it. If you take something off and you miss, it's gonna get hammered just as hard. But you see people try with more effort, and you're not going to be able to match his effort and his strength with his bat. Muscling up is not really the way to go."

A.J. Ellis:

"I remember being on the other side. With Giancarlo, the way his at-bats are and his approach is, there are windows where you can pitch. So you go into the series as a catcher and a pitcher and say, 'If we execute the ball to these places, to these windows, we're gonna be successful and get this guy out.' There's a difference, though. Those window frames for him are home runs. For me and everyone else, they're broken bat singles.

"If you're not drilling those small windows -- if you miss -- you're paying dearly for it. You see pitchers challenge him and try to hit certain spots. But there's a lot of pressure on the mound, knowing mentally that if I miss, I'm going to have something hit extremely hard and extremely far off me."

The lasting impression

Mike Berger, Marlins vice president and assistant general manager:

"I can't get away from the charge that took place right after the All-Star Game. It seems like every home run he hit was impactful because it gave us an early lead in the first inning or it was a tack-on, 2-3-run homer. Just the frequency of the home runs. I've never seen anything like it.

"Aaron Judge won the Home Run Derby and Stanton was like, 'Hey, Grasshopper, I'll show you what I'm capable of as we come out of the break.' Who knows if it motivated him? It may very well have. But it was a big deal, with everything that's gone on with the uncertainty of the franchise and whatnot. I think he rose to the occasion and let his actions answer the question.

"We went from a Judge to a Supreme Court Justice. That's kind of the way it was. [Aaron Judge] was an appellate judge and Stanton showed everybody that he's a Supreme Court Justice.''

Dave Van Horne:

"The first time I saw Andre Dawson, I thought, 'This is the best looking physique I've ever seen on a baseball player.' Until this guy. Dawson was chiseled. He was slender and had zero body fat, but he had a massive upper body. Goodness knows what he would have done if he hadn't hurt his knees playing football before he signed. He was an incredible athlete. But it was nothing like this guy.''


"The way he embraced the whole All-Star week was impressive. He was the gracious celebrity All-Star host, and that's what came through to me. There's a lot of charm there. There's a magnetic charisma, and it's a Hollywood smile.

"I think the commercial he did for T-Mobile is fantastic, with the guy on the sidelines hammering him with nicknames. I even commented to my wife. I said, 'You know what? He's really natural at the give-and-take.' Otherwise, he's a pretty guarded dude who just does his work, but he was really natural there. A star was born with that 30-second give-and-take in that commercial.''

Van Horne:

"It's 49 years for me, and in those 49 years, I've seen some pretty special players and a lot of Hall of Famers. I've never seen anything like this power display. I know that in his mind, 60 and 61 are the magic numbers, so it would really be something to see that. Plus, I was a child of that era, so those numbers are big for me, too.

"Let me put it this way: I totally understand why Stanton feels the way he does. And he's not alone.

"I do five innings [of play-by-play] and Geff does four, but the one thing I like about my chances is, he's hit more in the first inning (49) than any other inning in his career. I have the first two innings, so I might have a chance [to call it].

"I've seen Vladimir Guerrero. I saw Andre Dawson, obviously. Andres Galarraga, even Larry Walker. Guys that had really good long ball power, but nobody with the consistency of this player. And now he's going to go through 2017 known as the major league home run leader. I'm sure it's going to happen for him. To me, he's a better overall player right now than he's ever been.''