JACKSONVILLE -- Ricky Nolasco has had about as good a spring as any pitcher in baseball. In seven starts, he compiled a 1.94 ERA, went 4-0, struckout 30 batters and walked just one. In other words, he hardly made any mistakes -- and when he did he didn't really pay for them.
Friday night, though, 20-year old phenom Mike Stanton made sure Nolasco paid for his only mistake, tomahawking a high fastball well over the left field wall on the Baseball Grounds in Jacksonville. The first inning, two-run home run went an estimated 420-feet and landed close to a nearby service road behind the stadium. It drew a standing ovation from the crowd of 10,843 and blew away Nolasco, who couldn't believe Stanton actually caught up to the high fastball.
"As soon as I let it go, I didn't think he was going to swing," said Nolasco, who aside from the two-run homer continued his hot spring by tossing five scoreless innings, striking out seven and walking none. "I was surprised he got that ball. Unbelievable bat speed -- everybody knows that.
"He's a talented guy and we can't wait to have him up here. He's obviously something special. I think a lot of people are really happy to see him developing the way he is. The faster he gets here, the more he's going to help us. He's the exception -- superstar status."
Superstar in the making, yes. But major league superstar in 2010? Probably not. As giddy as Marlins President David Samson and President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest were just listening to Stanton crush balls during batting practice Friday, there certainly appears to be no rush whatsoever to get the "Big Worm" to the big leagues.
When a Jacksonville reporter asked how long it would be before Stanton got the call-up, Beinfest answered him with a question. "How long would like him to stay?" Beinfest said. "He'll let us know. We like our outfield the way it's set up now with [Cody] Ross, [Cameron] Maybin and [Chris] Coghlan. It's only a matter of time. I don't know when that will be, but he'll show us."
The good news for the Marlins is that Stanton doesn't seem to be very anxious or demanding. Instead, he's rather respectful of the process. Asked if he was bothered by the fact he was sent down even though he was having a hot spring, Stanton said "not really."
"That wasn't something I really even wanted to think about," Stanton said of making the team out of the spring. "I don't like to predict stuff. As long as it takes, whenever I'm ready, it will show enough. I'm not trying to be like 'In 30 days I better not be here.' The way I see it, anything can happen as long as you do the things you're supposed to."
That patience, humbleness and respect is definitely paying off in the Marlins clubhouse. After Friday's game, Stanton visited the Marlins and wished the club well in 2010. He also stopped by to visit a mentor.
"He came over to say bye to [Wes] Helms, who kind of took him under his wing and showed him the ropes," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He was with us the entire spring. There was definitely some bonding there."
The bonding didn't just happen with the Marlins. Dolphins boss Bill Parcells fell in love with Stanton too, and refers to him as Wormy. The nickname has stuck. Stanton said he's "cool with it." As long as people refer to him as the "Big Worm."
"He's the whole package," Beinfest said. "The way he handles himself is really impressive."