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02/15/11 9:40 AM EST

Slugging Stanton bulks up even more

Homer hitter adds eight pounds before taking over at cleanup

MIAMI -- One of the biggest offensive threats on the Marlins has gotten even bigger.

Mike Stanton has packed on eight more pounds since the end of last season, and the slugger now heads into Spring Training a sculpted 250 pounds.

All muscle, right?

"Fat," Stanton joked to reporters during the Marlins' "Caravan for the Troops" week.

Make no mistake, Stanton is physically fit and is ready to build on his impressive rookie year in 2010.

One of the most towering and physically impressive young players in the game, Stanton is a major reason why the Marlins have high expectations in 2011.

Standing 6-foot-5 1/2, the sky is the limit for Stanton, who paced all big league rookies last year with 22 home runs.

As he keeps piling up numbers, invariably, he will receive more recognition and become even more of a household name. He's well aware that expectations always will be higher.

"For me, I kind of always disappoint myself, because you always expect more than you even dreamed of," Stanton said. "So the plateau is unreachable and you're always in grasp of it.

"It still blows my mind that I'm even here. You dream about this all your life, and when you're living it, it's surreal sometimes. It's exciting."

Around South Florida, more people are starting to wear Stanton No. 27 shirts and jerseys.

"I have seen those," Stanton said. "That's real cool."

As a rookie, Stanton batted .259 with 22 homers, 21 doubles and 59 RBIs in 359 at-bats. Along with the power came strikeouts, as he fanned 123 times.

But the fact that Stanton hit 22 home runs in 100 Major League games makes it natural to wonder what he is capable of in a full season.

"It will be interesting, yeah," the right fielder said. "I'm more curious to see how good we're going to be [as a team], actually. As long as I do what I'm supposed to, and everyone fits their slot, it's going to be really interesting."

Stanton, who turned 21 on Nov. 8, is far from a finished product. He's still figuring out the big leagues, and based on his track record in the Minor Leagues, it is a matter of time before he posts big numbers. He hit .313 with a .442 on-base percentage at Double-A Jacksonville last year before being called up. One constant that has followed him is the home runs. In 324 Minor League games, he hit 89 dingers.

A former three-sport standout in high school, Stanton was selected in the second round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He has accomplished so much so fast, including belting at least 20 homers at the Minor League and big league levels in the same year.

Prior to being called up from Double-A, Stanton connected on 21 homers in 53 games at Jacksonville. So he hit 43 homers in 153 professional games in 2010.

The opportunity for more eye-opening power numbers is in front of him because he is expected to bat cleanup this season. The top of Florida's lineup is projected to be Chris Coghlan, Omar Infante, Hanley Ramirez and then Stanton.

As Stanton was breaking in as a rookie, the Marlins took the pressure off him by hitting him lower in the order. Most of the slugger's success came either from the sixth or seventh slots.

Batting sixth, he had a .330 average with 11 homers and 23 RBIs, compared to a .257 average with eight homers and 25 RBIs while hitting seventh.

The switch to fourth puts him where he profiles best in the big leagues.

"You either can handle it or you can't," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "Either you're Miguel Cabrera and you can handle it, or you are Mike Stanton and you can handle it. His ability is off the charts, and he's going to be fine. There are going to be some days when he's going to look like a 21-year-old without a lot of big league experience. But he is a special talent."

Because Florida has several young players who have yet to reach their prime, the team is considered a long shot to reach the postseason.

Stanton, though, isn't buying that. He said he thinks the Marlins are capable of being a "Cinderella" story.

"When you look at the stats, we lost like 20 something games from the seventh inning on," Stanton said of the 2010 season. "It wasn't our lineup. Our lineup got longer overall, and our bullpen got tougher. Other teams have gotten stronger as well. But people overlook us. I'm not just saying that. That's a fact. We're just going to play through it and see what happens."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.