- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

MIAMI (AP) - Sitting in the visitors’ dugout one afternoon last September, Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel watched rain fall as he gushed about the Florida Marlins‘ precocious slugger, Mike Stanton.

“He’s one of the best young hitters I’ve seen come along,” Manuel said. “The ball really jumps off his bat. He’s as strong as anybody I’ve ever seen.”

Manuel went on like that for 15 minutes. Eventually the rain stopped, the game began and Stanton struck out four times.

Oh well; no one ever claimed Stanton would get a hit every time up. But there’s a buzz building about the 21-year-old right fielder, whose propensity for prodigious homers is _ dare we say it? _ Ruthian. Or Mantlesque.

Or at least Pujols-ish.

“It makes BP-watching a lot more fun,” teammate Gaby Sanchez said. “We’re catching our groundballs and Mike will come up, and you’re like, ‘Hold on a sec. I don’t want to miss this.’”

Stanton was called up from Double-A to make his big-league debut last June. His first home run was a grand slam, and in 100 games hit 22 homers, several of the tape-measure variety. He batted .259, including .312 with eight homers in the final month of the season, giving the Marlins reason to believe they’re set in the cleanup spot for however long they can afford Stanton.

Others agree. One national publication even predicted he’ll be this year’s National League MVP.

“He’s got awesome power,” said Marlins special adviser Jack McKeon, not one for hyperbole. “With a little maturity and better pitch recognition, he’s going to be something special.”

Some sluggers make the ball sound different off their bat. Hall of Famer Tony Perez, a Marlins executive, said Stanton’s bat sounds different even before he makes contact.

“When you’re around the cage when he hits BP, you can hear the bat: “Sssshttp://wwwwhhhhh,’” Perez said. “It’s bat speed. Only a few players have that.”

Then there’s the flight of the ball. Many of Stanton’s homers leave a lasting impressive, such as the shot he launched last week that dented a video scoreboard 40 feet beyond the left-center field wall at the Marlins‘ spring training ballpark.

A right-handed hitter, he made upper-deck drives in batting practice commonplace last season, and cleared a building beyond center field during the first week of spring training in February. Mark McGwire cleared that same building in 1998, the year he hit 70 home runs.

“When a guy hits a ball that far, it doesn’t matter how many times you see it, it still has that little wow factor,” Sanchez said. “I can watch Stanton do it for the next 10 years and it’s still going to be, ‘Golly, that’s unbelievable.’”

Stanton said he’s not trying for tape-measure homers and is satisfied with clearing the fence.

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