Mike Stanton: Sophomore Slam or Slump?

Bu Tommy Rancel //

Stephen Strasburg debuted, Jason Heyward shatter windshields, and Buster Posey won the rookie of the year award. Meanwhile, Mike Stanton quietly mashed in South Florida.  Perhaps the fourth or fifth prospect in terms hype, Stanton’s powerful rookie campaign took a backseat to his more well-known peers. While the world was consumed with Stras-mas, the Marlins’ outfielder hit 22 home runs, drove in nearly 60 runs, and scored 45 of his own in 100 games. Oh, did I mention he didn’t turn 21 until AFTER the season?

Obviously the most impressive part of Stanton’s rookie season was his home run power. Only 12 men – including Stanton – have hit at least 22 home runs in their age-20 season. Names like Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Alex Rodriguez give Stanton pretty good company. Perhaps even more impression is the pace which he took the ball out of the yard.

Stanton needed just 100 games and 359 at-bats to launch his 22 home runs. Of the 12 man group from above, only former Atlanta Braves’ All-Star third baseman Bob Horner hit as many home runs in fewer games and at-bats.  The former top prospect’s ratio of a home run every 16 at-bats ranked fifth best in the National League last season.  Add in the 21 home runs hit before his call to the show, and Stanton showed off his home run trot a combined 43 times in 2010 in just 153 total games.

Of course, Stanton’s rookie season did not come without some bumps along the way. ). In his first 70 games, he hit just .235 and finished the season at with a .259 average despite a higher-than-normal batting average on balls in play (BABIP). In addition to the low average, his plate discipline – 123 strikeouts and 34 unintentional walks – is a work in progress. If you’re looking for some progress, he hit .312 with an OBP of .370 in the season’s final 30 games; however, that is a rather small sample size.

With a solid two-thirds of a season under his belt, expectations of 30-plus home run power over a full season now follow Stanton.  But home runs aren’t Stanton’s only source of value. In addition to the balls that went over the wall, he laced 21 doubles in ball parks across the country.  Also remember, Stanton racked up all these extra-base hits while playing his home games in a neutral park environment.

On top of the gaudy power potential, Stanton’s stock is on the rise because of his placement in the lineup. The Marlins decided to ease their younger in the lineup by placing him in the lower half of the order. Of his 359 at-bats last year, 87% of them came from the sixth slot or lower. In 2011, Stanton is slated to bat clean-up behind a talented trio of Omar Infante, Chris Coghlan, and MVP-candidate Hanley Ramirez.

Because he will not hit for a high average or swipe many steals keeps Stanton from the top-tier of fantasy outfielders. Add in the negative connotation of the strikeouts and his draft position varies from OF2 and OF3. Once again, tucked behind higher-profiled stars, this could leave Stanton as a mid-round steal.

With 30-plus home run power (35 projected by Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tool), the likelihood of an equal amount of doubles, and an increase in RBI opportunities, Stanton could be a fantastic power and RBI source in 2011. Set your target around the eighth round in a standard 12-team mixed-league, but if there is a sudden run on outfielders don’t be afraid to pull the trigger a round earlier.

Update: Stanton was diagnosed with right-quad injury after coming up lame in Sunday’s contest. He is expected to miss two weeks, but continue to monitor his progress throughout the spring.

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