Blast from past a healthy sign for Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees
TAMPA, Fla. — Giancarlo Stanton’s first Grapefruit League swing Wednesday was almost the last spring training pitch thrown by Nationals’ starter Cory Abbott.
After three straight sliders, Abbott apparently thought he could get an 89-mph fastball past Stanton at the top of the strike zone. It was March 1, after all, a spot on the calendar where hitters typically are still working on their timing. Or at least that’s the conventional wisdom.
Abbott was mistaken, and he likely had a black-and-blue souvenir to remind him of that error in judgement after Stanton ripped a 112.4-mph rocket that caromed off the pitcher’s leg, fortunately missing any breakable parts. Somehow, Abbott composed himself to complete a throw to first base for the out, though Stanton appeared to beat it by a half-step, and the Nats’ righty remained in the game after a a few minutes to make sure the leg was still intact.
Stanton is a very dangerous man at the plate, whether the games count or not, and to see him reach that dizzying exit velocity this early, in his very first game, was a sign that he’s on pace again to be one of the most lethal power bats in the game — when healthy. Last season, Stanton had the second-hardest hit ball in the majors at 119.8 mph, a few ticks below the Pirates’ 6-7 shortstop prodigy Oneil Cruz (122.4), and his 95.0 average ranked third behind Aaron Judge (95.9) and Yordan Alvarez (95.2).
In the fourth inning, Stanton also barreled up a 95-mph fastball from Jordan Weems, slightly inside about belt-high, but it was caught at the warning track in rightfield.
“I want the fly outs to the wall, I want the line outs, get them all out of the way here,” Stanton said, smiling. “So the season will be good.”
If only the law of averages worked like that. Regardless, Stanton, at age 33, could be poised for another wrecking-ball season, and manager Aaron Boone suggested after Wednesday’s game that it has the potential to be his most productive in pinstripes, eclipsing his 38-homer debut in the Bronx back in 2018.
“He’s a way better hitter than that — that’s what I think,” Boone said. “I think if Giancarlo goes out there, and is healthy, and can play 130-140 games, whatever that number is, I still think a massive season is in there. I think he’s a more advanced, polished hitter than he was then [in ’18]. Just experience, process, he’s still got massive power and bat speed, and all that stuff. He’s really good at learning and processing.”
The trick with Stanton, of course, is keeping him on the field. He played 159 games during his MVP year, his last with the Marlins, then 158 the next for the Yankees. Since then, Stanton hasn’t come close. We’ll throw out the 23 he played during the pandemic-trimmed 60-game season. But Stanton logged a mere 18 the previous year due to various strains to numerous body parts. His averages for the past two years: 124 games, 33 homers, .851 OPS.
In order for Boone’s rosy projections to become a reality, the Yankees need to strike the right balance between DH duty and using him in the outfield. The latter scenario involves some calculated risk, but it took too long for Boone and the front office to get over their initial anxiety of letting Stanton put his spikes in the grass. Bottom line, the Yankees are a superior team with Stanton in rightfield, and Boone acknowledges he’s a more lethal hitter as a two-way player. The manager even went as far as to say it could be a good thing for Stanton’s health, which is a progressive view for a team that once was so petrified of him breaking.
“I feel wholeheartedly that it serves him well to play the outfield, physically,” Boone said. “Now, he’s got to be able to do it — there’s going to be days when it’s absolutely a DH day. But I feel like the more he can get out there on a semi-regular basis, I think it ups his chances of staying healthy.
“That’s my feeling about it. People I’ve talked to, we don’t necessarily know that for sure. But I just think it’s like the marathon or a weightlifter — you don’t sit over there and not do it. You got to do it. And I think he likes doing it.”
Boone was tiptoeing along the edge of the whole load-management debate, and to that end, he couldn’t venture a guess as to what a reasonable number of outfield starts for Stanton might be. He’s still a very expensive piece of the puzzle, with the Yankees owing him $150 million over these next five seasons — the Marlins are paying $30 million of that, $10M each in the final three years — so they’d like to get a decent return on that investment. On Wednesday, Stanton was hitting cleanup in a lineup very similar to what the Yankees could use on Opening Day.
“When we’re all out there,” Stanton said, “it’s a force to be reckoned with.”
Or sometimes dodge. Just ask Abbott.