Resurgence of Stanton will be key for Marlins
After adding four free agents, Miami believes young slugger has protection he needs
MIAMI -- It's been a busy month for the Marlins, who signed four free agents -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia (catcher), Garrett Jones (first base), Rafael Furcal (second base) and Casey McGehee (third base) -- in hopes of bringing some life to a stagnant offense.
The new additions certainly are a start, but for Miami to make a dramatic turnaround in 2014, the club also will be banking on seeing the Giancarlo Stanton of old.
Stanton, the face of the franchise, is coming off his most trying big league season.
A towering presence in the middle of the order, the 24-year-old is among the most feared power hitters in the game. Since breaking into the big leagues in June 2010, he's belted 117 home runs, a total that ranks eighth all-time in Marlins' history. He will enter the '14 season needing 37 home runs to match Dan Uggla's team record of 154.
After finishing last in the Majors in runs scored (513), home runs (95) and team batting average (.231) in 2013, the Marlins' primary offseason focus was to bring in run producers to surround Stanton. They feel they have with the signings of Furcal, Saltalamacchia, Jones and McGehee.
Furcal is expected to lead off. Saltalamacchia, a switch-hitting catcher, is coming off a World Series title season in Boston. He will bat somewhere in the middle of the order, perhaps cleanup or fifth.
Jones is a left-handed-hitting first baseman who has belted more than 20 homers three times in his career with the Pirates. Against right-handed pitchers, he probably will bat cleanup, followed by Saltalamacchia. McGehee, who takes over at third base, is looking to re-energize his career in Miami. A right-handed batter, McGehee is a candidate to bat cleanup against left-handers.
The four join Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Adeiny Hechavarria as projected starters.
It will be a new look for the Marlins, who also have added more of a lefty-righty balance to their order.
"I think it's energized all of us," manager Mike Redmond said. "Going out and signing these guys, I know I'm excited. I know the coaching staff is excited. I think we all believe in the direction that we're headed and the guys that we have in place, the foundation."
If Stanton does his part, it could be a very interesting year in Miami. Coming off a 62-100 season, the Marlins made significant strides to get back into contention.
Like the rest of the team, Stanton also is looking to rebound from his most frustrating year. The 6-foor-6, 240-pound slugger batted .249 with 24 homers and 62 RBIs in 2013. It was a drop from his .290 average with 37 homers and 86 RBIs in '12.
"We just want him to relax," Redmond said. "Last year, I think he probably felt like he needed to do it all offensively.
"As a former player, whenever you feel like you have to do that, it usually doesn't end up good. I think for him to be successful, we just want him to go out there and just have fun and play his game. He's so talented. He means so much to our lineup and to our organization. We just want him to go out there and just do his part with no pressure."
Due to the abundance of rookies and inexperienced players in '13, it was a trying season for the entire organization. Because of injuries, Redmond had the tough task of trying to piece together a lineup that could produce much of anything.
For instance, even on Opening Day of last season, Redmond slotted players in places they were not best suited. Placido Polanco, initially projected to bat second, found himself in the cleanup position, behind Stanton. Polanco hit one home run all season.
Stanton was pretty much the lone home run threat for most of the year.
New Miami hitting coach Frank Menechino has yet to officially work with Stanton, but he's seen enough video of the slugger to recognize something special.
"The kid knows how to hit. The kid's a good hitter," Menechino said. "You're not going to hit 40 home runs every year. You've got to just make constant adjustments."
Because of his power, Stanton regularly sees a steady dose of breaking pitches and sliders. When he is pressing, the tendency is to chase them.
"I hear people say, 'Well, he can't hit the slider,'" Menechino said. "Who can hit a good slider? The best way to hit a good slider is don't miss the fastball."
So a focus with Stanton will be to not miss pitches to hit. Surrounded by some proven veterans, the Marlins are hopeful their right fielder can go back to being his old self.
Foremost, Stanton has to stay healthy, as durability has been an issue. On April 30, he strained his right hamstring and spent more than six weeks on the disabled list, returning on June 10. He appeared in just 116 games.
For the second straight year, Redmond is leaning towards batting Stanton third. With Furcal and Yelich tentatively set to bat first and second, respectively, chances are he will have runners on base ahead of him.
Because of injuries and ineffectiveness, Redmond scrambled his lineup in 2013 just to try to get anything going.
"I remember last year, you guys asked me about the lineup, and we went through a lot of different scenarios, and I think I probably used every one of those scenarios," Redmond said.