4 in 4 days: Divisional foes to watch – Houston Astros Justin Maxwell
Mar 31, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros center fielder Justin Maxwell (44) rounds the bases after hitting a triple in the eighth inning against the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Almost always intense and spirited, divisional rivalries are a huge part of any sport. The internal fire burns hotter and longer when facing a rival for most fans, and the opposition’s best players often draw the ire of a fanbase. Digging beyond the superstar names and the (often) over-hyped prospects, who are some players to watch from rival teams during these divisional bouts?
Justin Maxwell, Age 29, Centerfielder
After the Rangers-Astros game that kicked off the MLB season he may be more well-known than when I first decided to pen this piece, Justin Maxwell is a huge personal favourite, and owner of possibly the craziest athleticism in the majors. Maxwell stands an imposing 6’5” and weighs in at 245 lbs, yet is impresively fast which was on display on both of his triples Sunday night. Defensively, Maxwell does a very good job patrolling centerfield, and accentuates the skill-set with a solid arm. Both major defensive metrics, flawed as they may be, like Maxwell. Defensive Runs Saved, which comes to us from Baseball Info Solutions rates him 18 runs above average in roughly 86 full defensive games. Another defensive metric, Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) has rated him as 16 runs above average in centerfield so far in his career.
The most notable, and likely most intriguing part of Maxwell’s game is at the plate. While Maxwell’s career .220 batting average is unimpressive, he owns good strike-zone awareness and through 616 professional at bats he has walked 11.5% of the time, giving him a quasi-respectable career .313 on base percentage. Maxwell does strike out often due partially to a swing that can be exploited, though when he does make contact, it tends to go a long way. Maxwell has fantastic raw power, and hit the sixth longest home run in 2012, a 471 foot moonshot off of current teammate Alex White, while White was still a member of the Rockies. His Isolated Slugging Percentage (ISO, a measure of extra-base power) of .232 last season would have been 19th in all of baseball last season ahead of the likes of Albert Pujols and Mark Teixiera.
Originally drafted in the 43rd round in 2001, Maxwell turned down the Baltimore Orioles to attend the University of Maryland. Three years later when the draft rolled around again, Maxwell was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 10th round, yet opted to forego pro-ball and returned for his senior season at Maryland. In 2005 after being drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 4th round, Maxwell finally agreed to sign for $386,000.
Once drafted, Maxwell quickly progressed through the system, as one would expect from a four-year college prospect. At the end of 2007, he skipped AA and AAA for a 15-game cup of coffee with the Nats. He was assigned to AA for 2008, but a fractured wrist limited him to just 43 games. 2009 and 2010 saw Maxwell split time between AAA and the majors, where he logged 233 Plate Appearances posting a .307 wOBA and .685 OPS. Following the 2010 season, Maxwell underwent Tommy John surgery, and was traded to the New York Yankees.
Maxwell didn’t miss any time following Tommy John, but only played in 48 games due to a torn labrum that effectively ended his season. He was still a member of the Yankees’ 40-man roster, but after spring training in 2012 he was waived and claimed by the Astros. Though he missed a small chunk of time in 2012 due to ankle problems Maxwell started 77 games, and played in 40 more off the bench. This was the first time he received substantial playing time and didn’t fail to impress.
As you can guess Maxwell’s biggest issue, even bigger than the strikeouts, is staying healthy. When on the field, he has produced to the tune of a career .326 wOBA has solid defensive acumen in all three outfield spots. He is firmly entrenched in the three-true-outcome club, as 46.6% of his plate appearances ended in a walk, strikeout or home run last season. When watching the lowly Astros this season, pay attention to Maxwell, he may just awe you. For his career, Maxwell has posted a .220/.313/.436 line with 27 Home Runs and 20 steals in approximately one full season worth of plate appearances.