Justin Maxwell is a fast, 27-year-old outfielder who bats right-handed and has power. The Yankees need fast, young, right-handed hitting outfielders with power. It has been in all the newspapers.
In a word, he looks impressive. He’s 6-foot-5, 235 pounds. The way he runs, he could have made a lot of money as a defensive end. Defensively, he may be the best outfielder the Yankees have on their 40-man roster right now.
When he was drafted in the fourth round in 2005, the Washington Nationals took him four spots ahead of the point where the Tampa Bay Rays took Jeremy Hellickson.
He is a guy that you see, and you remember. He has hit 19 homers in 177 games the last two seasons with Syracuse, and when he connects, the ball flies. And when the ball is hit toward him, he flies. He is as good a defensive outfielder as there was in the International League.
So to get a player like Maxwell for a Class A middle reliever like Adam Olbrychowski would seem to be the very definition of a no-brainer.
Just one thing I can’t wrap my head around:
If he’s so good, why did the Nationals — a team that knows player development — take his roster spot away from him and hand it to Todd Coffey?
My personal view on Maxwell is this: If he doesn’t make the big league roster — and he stays healthy — Maxwell will be just a terrific player for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. PNC Field is a big park, but he has the type of power that will enable his drives to not get swallowed up as consistently as they do for others. Plus, that’s a big center field. He’ll really be able to show off his wheels and his athleticism going after fly balls in the gaps. Folks who read this blog a lot know how much I like Greg Golson, and Maxwell is a Golson-type. Very athletic, and you almost pine to see him put it all together, because it would be a beautiful thing to see.
Before the 2010 season, Baseball America named Maxwell both the 8th best prospect the best athlete in Washington’s minor-league system.
He hit 27 homers in 2007 and has generally been a middle-of-the-order threat. That season, he was the only player in the minors to hit 25 doubles, 25 homers and steal 25 bases.
He has never failed to reach double-digits in stolen bases, and he finished with 35 in both 2007 and 2009.
A little-known Maxwell fact: The first hit of his big league career was a pinch-hit grand slam, against Marlins reliever Chris Seddon on Sept. 11, 2007.
Bottom line: When he stays healthy, Maxwell produces.
Well, let’s start with Maxwell’s numbers when he faced big league pitching: A .201 average, nine homers and 26 RBIs in 122 games. Considering his average, his .319 OBP is OK. But it’s safe to say he hasn’t built on 2007, at least when it comes to major league production.
As is the case with most players who get the “when they’re healthy” stipulation added into their compliments, Maxwell hasn’t always stayed healthy.
In 2008, he broke his wrist diving for a flyball. He played in only 43 Double-A games. Then, after last season, he underwent Tommy John Surgery, although he is expected to be ready for spring training.
Will he be 100 percent by the time the gates open in Tampa? Not sure. I mean, how can he be, just four months off Tommy John surgery?
Is that why the Nationals chose to part with him, enabling the Yankees to claim and ultimately buy low on him? Perhaps it was part of the reason.
The other reason, though, is that the Nationals are loaded in the outfield, were carrying eight on the 40-man, and were pretty much forced to eliminate someone there to add the set-up man they wanted. Obviously, Jayson Werth, Rick Ankiel and Nyjer Morgan are the starters and weren’t going to get cut. Michael Morse is a pretty solid utility man, and he is a pretty safe bet to make the big club. So that left Roger Bernadina (a really good prospect), Corey Brown (a really good prospect) and Bryce Harper (last year’s No. 1 overall pick) as the main competition for Maxwell in the race to keep his job.
Can’t fault the Nationals for liking those three prospects — none of whom were coming off TJ — just a bit better.
At the end of the day, one team had to make a tough decision, and another shrewdly swept in. Will Justin Maxwell be a major contributor int he big leagues this season? Maybe not. But is he a really good athlete who still has plenty of tools and a lot of potential? Can he benefit from a change of scenery and the tutelage of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre hitting coach Butch Wynegar? I think it’s a yes on both counts.
(Above photo is from Nationals Daily News.)