DETROIT -- What you see when Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton steps to the plate is a hulking 6-foot-6 and 245-pound star, blessed with the combination of power, speed and athleticism that makes scouts' eyes water. His natural attributes are only fortified by the insatiable work ethic that has allowed the 26-year-old slugger to emerge as one of the top young talents in the game -- and to cash in on a historic 13-year, $325 million payday in 2014.
But for all of Stanton's preternatural gifts and talent, he is not impervious to struggles, and never was that more apparent than during a protracted stretch in the first few months of this season. From May 1 through June 7 -- a span of 27 games, Stanton was hitting .149 (14-for-94), the worst mark among qualified hitters in the majors during that period, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
It was during this time he leaned on someone within his own dugout for advice -- Barry Bonds. Who better to ask than the all-time home run leader, in his inaugural stint as the Marlins hitting coach?
"He's like a technician; he'll get as technical as you can understand or as simple as you need," Stanton told ESPN.com, laughing when asked which he preferred. "I'd say we grew together with that. Now, I want every last bit of knowledge -- which he knows some may not understand -- but I wanna be as far into it as I can."
Bonds also chuckles when asked about his "tactician's approach," and how that is received within a clubhouse that has a myriad of different learning styles and personalities.
"I just look at it this way: you either look at it right, or you like it wrong," Bonds said. "That's their choice. That's the bottom line."
That choice was an easy one for Stanton, and one for which he is already reaping rewards.
Stanton offered up an Exhibit A in the case that he has put a prolonged slump behind him: It was the 86-mph slider he sent 441 feet on a rope to center field in the second inning of last Tuesday's loss to the Detroit Tigers. It was a line drive with a 17-degree launch angle that left his bat at a blistering 115 mph.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, that's about ten degrees lower (26.1) and five miles per hour faster SOB (110 mph) than the average home run of 440 feet or more hit by major league players this season.
Tigers catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia just shook his head when recalling the hit the next morning. That's the sort of feat he witnessed every day while teammates with Stanton in Miami.
"That wasn't even one of his most impressive," Saltalamacchia told ESPN.com. "He's so strong and so big. I wish I had that. I'd never have to pull the ball. I'd just have to be making contact and I'd be hitting home runs."
Stanton is now showing tangible signs of escaping the abyss, and the Tigers learned the hard way that his bat is heating up. Since June 8, Stanton is batting .261 with 3 HR and 14 RBI.
"It's nice to see him getting going again," Marlins manager Don Mattingly, one of the most prolific hitters of his own generation, said following last Tuesday's game. "Obviously, he's been swinging better for a while now and it seems like the way he was swinging earlier in the year is kind of behind us."
Stanton is thrilled about that after having to answer for his struggles for months while he was himself trying to figure out exactly what was wrong. People tend to forget that even the biggest bats in the league can go dormant. It's not always simple to figure out. But, by the second week of June, Stanton started to gain some clarity about his swing. Making those adjustments took time, however, and it was not a seamless transition.
"I'd say around the West Coast trip I started to get a grasp of everything going wrong," Stanton said. "Then I had to refine it because the muscle memory, even if it's negative, it's gonna stick with you. That's what you practice, that's what you master, even though you know it may not be the right way of doing it. You have to retrain it and still be out there playing every night, too. That's the biggest juggle."
Stanton isn't the only one trying to maintain a juggling act; Bonds is doing the same as he learns to handle his new responsibilities as a coach after playing more than two decades in the majors. He's having fun, though, and enjoys the daily grind of being back in the game. And what he enjoys most is working with young players like Stanton.
"He's in that position where he has the potential to be best home run hitter -- his natural power, his natural ability...that's what I like," Bonds said. "He can be the [Miguel] Cabrera of the young age to now. I like that. Bryce Harper and all those guys. That's what's fun to see. That's what I like to see in those younger guys. You see yourself in those guys. You think, looking back, like, wow, I remember those days. He's learning and look at that talent. He's fast, he can swing the bat good, he's got pop, there's so many good things that you can see, which is nice, because that's what I like to reminisce about."
Stanton said he and Bonds would get entrenched in long conversations during that slump - more technical than philosophical - and just space out to everyone and everything else in the clubhouse while the two tried to make things right.
"It was a lot mechanical. It's not in his head," Bonds said, brushing off the suggestion. "He's got a lot of confidence. He's a confident person. It was a lot of mechanical and he's making those adjustments."
Because of Stanton's star status, his history of production and the heft behind his contract, his early-season struggles were scrutinized from just about every angle.
"He's in that position where he has the potential to be best home run hitter -- his natural power, his natural ability... He can be the [Miguel] Cabrera of the young age to now."
His batting average against both right-handed (.223) and left-handed (.245) pitching has dropped significantly from his career averages (.261 vs. RHP; .286 vs. LHP).
Some theorized that he has a blind spot that causes him to lose the ball as it approaches the plate. Others felt there may even be a psychological component to his dropoff, stemming from his harrowing facial injury, when he suffered multiple facial fractures, dental damage and a facial laceration after getting hit by a pitch in the face by Milwaukee's Mike Fiers in September 2014.
Stanton denied the injury got in his head ("I have a lot of years left in the league; if I'm going to be worried about that, for a year, or even a month, it's not going to go well," he said) but admitted that he felt pitchers were initially trying to attack him differently after that, potentially trying to exploit any fear he may have harbored of getting beaned again.
"I noticed they tried to go up and in when I came back from the face," Stanton said. "In the first bit of this [recent] bad stretch, guys came up and in and just because of how bad I was playing, they started doing that more thinking that that's why [opponents] were having success."
But, as he explained, his hand injury last season -- a hamate bone fracture in his left hand -- was actually much tougher to come back from. Doctors told him that it was some of the worst bleeding and swelling they had ever seen. His finger tendons were messed up. It took a long time to regain his grip. What began in June as a four-week injury eventually lingered until December.
"I was in the five percent that go wrong, in that sense," Stanton said.
Stanton won't deny that the unfortunate slew of injuries have had an impact on him the past few seasons, but he also won't chalk up his recent slump to that, either. And now that is in that past, he's not too interested in dwelling on it.
What he will say is that the tough spell endured this year gave him a new appreciation for his hitting coach and helped forge a strong relationship. Stanton isn't exactly the type to get star-struck, but he knows the novelty is real. Friends and family members ask what Bonds is like. Sometimes they aren't expecting the answer he gives them.
What surprises people?
"I'd say how much he cares," Stanton said. "He has the image, or whatever you want to call it, of being nonchalant or however you, whatever people want to put it [as], but he cares a lot. Once he gets to know you to help you, he wants you to do the best."
Bonds bristles at the notion that the best athletes in any sport often fail at coaching because they have such a different grasp on the game. He thinks that is "unbelievably false." He feels he has plenty of insight to provide.
He doesn't expect Stanton to be Barry Bonds 2.0. He'll be happy if he simple helps to make him better.
"I don't expect any player to be me," he said. "I expect them to be who they are. And the best they can be. And if that happens to be better than me ...God bless them. That's what you do as a coach. You want them to be the best they can be. And if that happens to be better than me, great. I'm fine with that."
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