By John Perrotto
Standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 240 pounds with rippling muscles, Giancarlo Stanton is as great of a physical specimen as there is in Major League Baseball.
Those who see him in person for the first time -- and he is still somewhat of a secret to many, thanks to the Miami Marlins' lack of national television opportunities -- just marvel at Stanton's build. He is like a modern-day Adonis.
Stanton is so well-built and visibly strong that one is thrown for a loop when he talks about improving his workout regimen. It doesn't seem he should even need to do any physical training, because his body seems to be a gift from a higher power. Yet ask Stanton how he bounced back from a subpar 2013 -- at least by the 24-year-old's lofty standards -- to become one of the best players in baseball this season, and he says it's because he's in better physical condition.
Stanton was hobbled by hamstring, shoulder and ankle injuries last season when he hit .249 with 24 home runs, 62 RBIs and an .846 OPS in 116 games. While that would be considered a good season for most players, it was a huge comedown for Stanton after batting .290 with 37 homers, 86 RBIs and a .969 OPS in 2012.
"I really felt like pretty much every year I was in good shape, but I came to the conclusion at the end of last season that I wasn't in good enough shape because I kept getting nagging injuries, especially last year," Stanton said. "I really developed a plan with some key points that I've wanted to stick to, not only last offseason but during the season, too. I came up with a Plan A, a Plan B and even a Plan C so I could be totally in shape, and the results attest to how well the plan has worked."
Stanton is having a huge season and leads the National League with 21 home runs and 62 RBIs. He is also hitting .295 and has a .933 OPS. Just as importantly, he has played in each of the Marlins' 94 games.
"It's good to be on the field every day," Stanton said. "That was my goal from the day I started working out for this season last winter."
Stanton had a chance to show off his prodigious power Monday night during the All-Star Home Run Derby at Target Field in Minneapolis. He hit home runs in 10 of his 17 first-round swings, including two in particular that brought the crowd to its feet -- a drive that landed in the seats above the batter's eye in straightaway center field and a blast to nearly the top row of the upper deck in left field that would've traveled an estimated 490 feet if it weren't stopped by the stands.
"Nobody might ever hit balls that far in this park -- unless it's Giancarlo," said Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, last season's NL Most Valuable Player. "His power is ridiculous. I don't see everybody in the American League because I'm in the National League, but I find it hard to believe there is anyone in the game with more raw power than him."
That power is a large part of the reason why teams consistently engage the Marlins in trade discussion about Stanton. It also helps that he is not eligible for free agency until 2017 and plays for a franchise that has a reputation for dealing their stars rather than paying their worth. Stanton gives the usual ballplayer's response about not paying attention to the reports and only concentrating on what he can control, though he adds a caveat: "I do know that there are always a lot of rumors out there, and they have to be rooted in at least some truth," he said.
Stanton has spent his entire professional career with the Marlins since they selected him in the second round of the 2007 amateur draft from Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He signed for a $475,000 bonus, forgoing a scholarship to play wide receiver at the University of Southern California -- and a possible career in the NFL.
Stanton's plan was to give baseball three years. If he wasn't making progress, he would go to college and play football. He wound up reaching the Double-A level by the end of his third season in 2009, then made his major league debut the following year.
"You can never predict those things, but I have played with and against NFL players," Stanton said when asked if he thought he could have been a pro football player. "I definitely would have had just as good of a shot. Playing with them and against them always made me wonder if I could be there. The opportunity I had, though, with baseball when I was 17 and coming out of high school was just too great to pass up, both athletically and economically."
The Marlins say they want to keep Stanton for the long haul and build their team around him and right-hander Jose Fernandez, the 22-year-old wunderkind who is recovering from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery after winning the NL Rookie of the Year award last season.
Beyond saying he wants to see if the Marlins are committed to winning before he would entertain the idea of staying in South Florida on a long-term contract, Stanton won't say much about his future plans. However, it seems clear that he seems at least somewhat unsure about the Marlins' future, despite a collection of young talent on the major-league roster that includes right-handed starters Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Turner, lefties Andrew Heaney and Brad Hand, reliever Carter Capps, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, left fielder Christian Yelich and center fielder Marcell Ozuna -- none older than 25.
The Marlins haven't had a winning season since 2009 or been to the postseason since winning the 2003 World Series. This season, they're 44-50 and in fourth place in the NL East, seven-and-a-half games behind the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves.
"There have been good spurts but spurts that have been bad, too, this season," Stanton said. "What I'm most impressed about is how bad we've been playing and not being that far out of [first place]. As much as anything, that's the biggest difference to me than other years. We haven't played great, but we haven't been blown out of the race, either.
"We definitely have the pieces to put together a very good team, but the pieces don't mean that much if you don't go out there and do it -- go out and win some ballgames."
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John Perrotto has covered professional baseball since 1988 for such outlets as USA Today, USA Today Sports Weekly, The Sports Xchange, Baseball America and the Beaver County (Pa.) Times. You can find more of his work on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.