PHOENIX -- R.A. Dickey likened him to a hulking fairy tale character: the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk.
Dale Murphy said he’s in the same class of player as Bo Jackson.
And Steve Cishek — his teammate on the Marlins — said Team USA players keep coming up to him and asking the same question: “Is that guy human?”
Giancarlo Stanton is all the rage at the World Baseball Classic, where Team USA is scheduled to face Mexico when it begins play Friday at Chase Field.
“This kid is … wow,” marveled Team USA manager Joe Torre.
Stanton has everyone singing his praise in the Arizona desert, and he had fans oohing and ahhing when he launched a batting practice ball off the elevated scoreboard in deep center on Thursday, creating a loud bang.
“It’s cool,” Stanton said of the experience. “We’ve had fun so far.”
The WBC will showcase Stanton on a national stage for the first time and help make up for last year when he had to pull out of the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby because of a knee injury that required surgery.
But the WBC isn’t quite the same as the All-Star Game.
“I would put it as sort of an All-Star team with a little more work,” Stanton said of the WBC. “All-Star is more for fun and show for the fans. This is the same talent level, but we’ve got to come out and perform.”
Though he’s only 23 and the youngest position player on the Team USA, Stanton has left his veteran teammates — some who are seeing him up close for the first time — shaking their heads in awe and wonder.
Before a wrist injury forced him out of the tournament, New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira — no weakling he — could hardly believe his eyes as he watched Stanton belt home run after home run during batting practice earlier in the week.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Teixeira told reporters. “I’ve played with a lot of guys headed for the Hall of Fame, but I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Dickey, the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner and Friday’s scheduled starter for Team USA, is as good a source as any to talk about Stanton. Only two other pitchers have faced Stanton more often than Dickey (Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay), who pitched for the New York Mets before being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays over the winter.
Asked to describe Stanton, Dickey replied: “I feel like Jack around him, [as in] Jack and the Beanstalk. He takes up the whole box visually when I’ve faced him, and I’ve faced him a number of times. I remember having the same feeling when Frank Thomas was in the box. He just takes up the whole box, and you don’t feel there’s much place to go with him.”
Dickey has had mixed success against Stanton.
Although Stanton has failed to homer off the knuckleballer, he has recorded six hits in 20 at bats.
“Thankfully, I throw a pitch that moves in a lot of different directions, so I’ve been able to have a little bit of success against him,” Dickey said. “But he is a very intimidating player to play against.”
Torre, who had only seen Stanton in action from afar until this week, is impressed with the slugger’s focus on fundamentals.
“He’s quite a physical specimen, and he’s got a head on his shoulders to match,” Torre said. “You can tell a lot from what a player takes batting practice. I go back to the days when I played and guys having contests of who can hit the ball the farthest. He’s up there working his batting practice. And when I say working his batting practice, he’ll hit more balls to the right side of second base than he will to the left side because he knows what makes him successful.”
Murphy, the former Atlanta Braves star and a coach for Team USA, said what impresses him about Stanton is his all-around play, not just his raw power.
“I love his game,” Murphy said. “With the power he has, his other stuff goes under the radar. We’ve only played two [exhibition] games, but he’s made some really good plays in the outfield. He has a very good arm. And he can run. He’s a Bo Jackson-type guy. If he’s not the best athlete in the game, I’d like to see who is. Who’s better?”