NEW YORK — No one since Giancarlo Stanton arrived in the majors in June 2010 has served up more homers to him than Joe Espada. The Marlins’ former third-base coach and now a member of the Yankees’ front office, Espada regularly threw batting practice to Stanton through last season.
Of the hundreds of balls that left Espada’s hand and soared over fences, one stands out. A couple of seasons ago at Citi Field, Stanton obliterated a batting practice pitch that landed in the third deck.
“He was the last hitter in that group,” Espada recalled. “When he hit that ball, I think it was the third or fourth swing, we ended that group. We all stopped and looked at it. I remember when he hit the ball you could hear that fans go, ‘ooh’ and he got a standing ovation. We said, ‘You know what? We’re going to stop it right here.’
“That ball in Minnesota, if he hits a ball like that, oh man, forget it.”
A first-time Home Run Derby participant, Stanton isn’t just expected to win it. Everyone from fans to peers to pundits is anticipating scoreboard-busting, light tower-scraping shots.
“I know he’s going to hit some home runs,” said manager Mike Redmond, who regularly throws to Stanton’s batting practice group and will serve in the same capacity Monday night at Target Field. “Hopefully it’s just a matter of [how] far they go.”
Of course, Stanton wants to leave mouths agape, but that’s a secondary goal.
“If it goes over the fence, it goes over, 120 feet past or one foot past, it’s the same amount of points,” Stanton said. “It’s a competition, man. If I wanted to stand there and look pretty I’d just take selfies all day and post them up.
“Just be relaxed is the biggest thing. You tense up or try too hard … there are times I’ve hit 15 or 20 in 25 swings and wasn’t trying at all. There are times I’m like, ‘Alright, let me let loose,’ and I’ve hit three into the turtle. You just have to not try too much. You’re going to have the crowd and everything. You just have to remember what got you there.”
That’s exactly the advice former Home Run Derby participants David Wright and Bobby Abreu offered. Abreu in 2005 won it with an epic performance, totaling 41 homers.
“He just has to enjoy it and not put too much pressure on himself,” Abreu said. “More than anything, he needs to relax. He’s going to hit long home runs, but if he doesn’t think about things are going to turn out better. If he’s thinking everybody is waiting for a kilometric home run, he’s going to put pressure on himself.”
Perhaps of equal significance is Redmond stay pressure-free. Abreu said Ramon Henderson, his regular batting practice pitcher with the Phillies at the time, deserved a ton of credit for getting him into a groove in 2005.
Redmond said unlike many power hitters who like the ball middle-in, Stanton prefers it up and out over the plate. Don’t look for Stanton to get pull-happy. He plans to stay with his usual approach of driving the ball to the bigger parts of the field.
“It’s all about just getting it over the plate,” Espada said. “I don’t think it’s about throwing it in or throwing it out. Just get it over the white and he’ll take care of it. That’s one of the unique things about Giancarlo as a power hitter. He can get the barrel to the ball easily.”
Added Wright, a two-time participant and finalist in 2006: “He’s going to do just fine. I think it would be fairer in the Home Run Derby if they made him hit opposite-field home runs and everybody else can pull it, and he still might win. As far as just raw power goes I don’t think there’s anybody on his level.”
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