Justin Maxwell’s Big & Meaningless Spring

2012 Season Preview: Farm System
Could the Yankees again turn to Abreu at DH?
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Late-March is a cruel time of year for baseball fans. Spring Training games have become dull and monotonous while regular season games are still two weeks away. It’s a horrible limbo of meaningless baseball, and we often wind up spending too much time trying to find meaning in games that don’t count. We know we shouldn’t do it, but subconsciously it’s unavoidable. We want to believe the big breakout is coming or that so-and-so really did develop another pitch. It’s just a natural part of Spring Training.

Yankees camp is no different this year. Career journeyman Clay Rapada looks like the answer to our LOOGY prayers, Phil Hughes has been throwing the best changeups of his life, and both Derek Jeter and Eduardo Nunez look like the best hitting shortstop in the American League. Perhaps the most impressive player in camp has been career up-and-down guy Justin Maxwell. He’s hit .414/.485/.586 in camp after putting together a .418 wOBA with 16 homers in 204 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton in 2011. His performance has been so impressive that some are wondering if he should break camp with the team rather than someone like Raul Ibanez.

I think there is some merit to that line of thinking, especially since Maxwell is just 28 years old and has significant tools. He passes the eye test at 6-foot-5 and 235 lbs., and all throughout his lengthy Triple-A career (924 PA) he’s shown power (.192 ISO), patience (12.4 BB%), and speed (62-for-79 in stolen base attempts, 78.5%). Maxwell is also capable of playing all three outfield spots, though his throwing arm isn’t anything to write home about. His biggest drawback is his complete inability to make consistent contact. Maxwell has struck out in 30.6% of his Triple-A plate appearances, and that big Triple-A performance last year came with a 35.3 K%. That’s unfathomable. It’s a Mark Reynolds strikeout rate against minor league pitchers.

Back in December I wrote about the possibility of Maxwell serving as the Yankees fourth outfielder/lefty masher should Andruw Jones sign elsewhere, and my opinion of him hasn’t really changed. Thirty-three plate appearances in Spring Training shouldn’t sway your opinion about any player. Hell, 33 regular season plate appearances shouldn’t change your opinion. It’s a week’s worth of playing time, that’s it. Maxwell has done the majority of his work off the bench this spring, which means a lot of that damage has come against the opponent’s second string, minor league pitchers we already know he can mash. The only thing we’ve learned about Maxwell this month is that his shoulder is healthy after he tore his labrum making a catch at the wall last May.

If nothing else, Maxwell has been an interesting story this spring. I have a hard time seeing him as anything more than a backup plan at the moment, and the Yankees are going to be forced to make a decision about his future pretty soon because he’s out of minor league options. With so many teams looking for outfield help — Braves, Mets, Nationals, Marlins, and Indians, among others — there’s bound to be a trade match somewhere. Out of options players usually don’t command much in a trade, but maybe Maxwell’s big spring means the Yankees can get a Grade-C prospect in return rather than a Grade-D prospect. It is Spring Training after all, a man can dream.

I think last year’s shoulder injury really derailed whatever Yankees career Maxwell may have had. Had he stayed healthy all year, we certainly would have seen him with the big league team last summer, perhaps instead of Dickerson for all that time. We never got a look at him as a September call-up and never got to see what could come from extended work with Kevin Long. There’s a non-zero chance the Spring Training performance is a sign of things to come, but I wouldn’t put money on it. The Yankees don’t have much time left to evaluate him, but a decision about his future is due soon.

2012 Season Preview: Farm System
Could the Yankees again turn to Abreu at DH?
  • Robinson Tilapia

    “Justin Maxwell’s Big and Meaningless Spring” is one of my favorite 80’s teen movies. Anthony Michael Hall was superb.

    In all seriousness, Maxwell may be the most teasing-est of teasing probably AAAA players I’ve ever come across.

    • Plank

      I think the term hero gets thrown around way too casually, but Anthony Michael Hall is the greatest hero the world has ever known.

      • jsbrendog

        chicken parm. hands down. anthony michael hall is a close 2nd

    • Rainbow Connection

      I love the scene where he poops in Molly Ringwald’s brace-face.

  • Mr. RSU

    Can you give me an example of a Grade C and Grade D prospect in our organization?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Grade-C: Corban Joseph/Jose Ramirez

      Grade-D: Rob Lyerly/Shaeffer Hall.

      • Mr. RSU

        Word, gracias

        Let’s indeed hope for that C

      • pat

        How dare you besmirch my sweet, sweet prince, Shaeffer Hall.

        • I Live In My Mom’s Basement

          Shaeffer Hall is not a player, it’s a college dorm.

  • Ted Nelson

    Sort of reminds me of Girardi’s comment that JoVa might be the MVP of the Grapefruit League in 2011… but basically it doesn’t matter. Results will probably be similar, but in this case Maxwell obviously has more defensive value than JoVo and I wouldn’t be upset to see him over Ibanez if the team decides Ibanez is spent.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I still most likely think this goes the way of the team giving the veteran with the crap spring the benefit of the doubt, but I’ve come around to this conclusion as well. Worst case scenario for either is the team looking at Plan B in May.

  • viridiana

    Since you mention Maxwell’s good walk rate, shouldn’t we use a strikeouts/at bats ratio? This of course makes his horrendous strikeout rate even worse. But since he’s already gotten credit for his walks, I would think Ks/ABs paints a more accurate picture of just how bad he is at making contact. No point in giving him credit twice for the walks.

    • RetroRob

      The BB and S/O rates should be based on PAs not ABs. I not sure what you mean by giving him “credit twice for walks.” The calculations Mike used were consistent for BB and S/O %, both using PAs.

      • viridiana

        Walks count for PA’s, not ABs. So strikeouts as % of PA’s looks much better(ie, lower) for such a player. But if you’ve already given him credit for walks independently, better to just show his Ks per AB. In Maxwell”s case both numbers are bad. But the K/AB is frightfully high — no matter the walks. Guys who strike out that much in AAA almost never make it — unless they have 40HR power.
        No biggie either way in this case– either way you look at it, Maxwell does not seem like a good ML option.

  • Dicka24

    If Maxwell batted lefty I think he would be kept over Ibanez. Ibanez has looked worse than I thought he would. I never liked the signing, not that $1 million for a DH isn’t anything the team can’t get out from.

    Justin Maxwell has 219 AB’s in the major leagues over parts of 3 seasons from his time with the Nationals. He batted .201, with 13 homers & (gulp) 83 k’s in those 219 AB’s. That’s a 38% K rate using AB’s, and a 32% rate using his career 260 PA’s.

    Personally I think Ibanez will be Randy Wynn redux, and JoVa will get a shot to do some damage at some point.

  • Plank

    Justin Maxwell: Great Player or Greatest Player?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      So great that Alex Rodriguez tried to emulate HIS swing.

      • Plank

        Justin Maxwell’s tears can cure cancer.

        • vin

          Too bad they can’t cure ankle injuries. I can think of a few guys who would benefit from that.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Rub a bit on your arm and it makes the v-lo go away.

  • J.R.

    I can seee a Richie Sexon (circa 2008) esque pickup mid season.

    • jsbrendog

      his name s russ branyon. and his back hurting and preventing him from even getting into a spring game is a good thing for the yankees. it means no other team would even consider giving him an ML deal so he may as well hang around and wait to see how bad ibanez does. in my humble opinion.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        “From Russell to Russel to Russ: My Ever-Shrinking First Name” by The Artist Only Known as “Branyan.”

        • jsbrendog

          honestly, who cares how he spells his name? it’s a bit different than mispelling pettitte. we’re not talking about a) a star, b) someone who has even suited up once so far this spring or c) something else because three things seems to be more poignant than 2.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Someone’s testy.

        • jsbrendog

          ps, he should record a song.

      • Ted Nelson

        My personal feelings towards “Russel Branyan” aside, I agree. I don’t know how likely it is that he recovers, just that it could potentially be a very good scenario if Ibanez flops.

  • STONE COLD Austin Romine

    Maxwell will probably spun off for a ptbnl or cash considerations.

  • bg90027

    You really think Jeter and Nunez are better hitters than Bernier? More seriously, I wouldn’t keep Maxwell over Ibanez but I don’t think the Yankees need a 2nd LOOGY or a 7 man pen and wouldn’t be against them keeping him and giving him some extended time to work with Kevin Long. I wouldn’t expect much but it shouldn’t matter that much who you keep as the last player on the roster and he’s got more upside than any of the other candidates.

    • Havok9120

      He almost certainly does not have more upside than Cabral, and I’m not a huge Cabral fan. Maxwell is not a guy who could carve out a longterm niche unless he proves his entire minor league career was not indicative of his true potential. Cabral, on the other hand, could. Maybe. If the stars align, the Good Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise.

      • Rookie

        Unless his entire minor league career doesn’t matter?

        I don’t think you’re looking at the same stats that I am. He’s averaged an .814 OPS in AAA in 791 ABs and managed an .829 and .945 OPS in his most recent two partial years there in 2010 and 20133, albeit in 272 and 204 ABs, respectively, after struggling in his first year in AAA with a .740 OPS. Maybe it took him a year or two to figure it out and show what he’s got. Maybe he can do the same at the major league level.

        And then again, maybe not… Of course, there’s no guarantee. He’s certainly no lock to be a stud in the majors. But for goodness sakes, an above average center fielder (according to FanGraphs), who can steal a lot of bases with a good success rate, who might be able to manage an .800+ OPS, who, according to FanGraphs, contributed a WAR of 1.0 and 0.4 in very limited playing time in 2009 and 2010, respectively, who’s young and cheap… I’d certainly want to do my best, one way or another, to get an extended look and make a somewhat more informed decision one way or the other…

        Adjusted for the position he plays and his defense and base-running ability, I’m not sure he’s a whole lot different than Carlos Pena circa 2006. He’s only one year older than Pena was, too. And according to FanGraphs, Maxwell’s had a higher total WAR in two years of very limited playing time in the majors than Pena had in 1,900+ ABs over four years in four times as many ABs.

        • Rookie

          Correction. I got my $ and my WARs confused. :(

          But I think the rest of my post and my point stands.

  • awy

    you are underselling the guy. great power potential with the ability to play some outfield is a decent commodity. teams will be jumping on him if the yankees let go of him.

    • Sayid J.

      he’s not underselling the guy at all. He said he’d be okay with him making the roster. 30% K rate in the minors is obscene.

      • awy

        yes, but at some point a K is just another out. it affects his average but the power is going to be there and the OBP won’t be disastrous given his better than decent patience.

        the hidden factor here is how maxwell is a raw athlete of a prospect and these guys take a lot of time to develop. contact rate also happens to be the area in which this type of player stands the most to gain from a break-through.

        • awy

          Also, i think of this situation as choosing between different risk/upside profiles. ibanez is let’s say 70% going to give you a replacement level DH performance, and a close to nil chance of more than that. maxwell has 30% chance of being above water level, but also a 15% chance of becoming something greater in the case of him fixing his platoon issue, for instance, or finally having his breakthrough as raw athletic guys tend to do with a ton of at bats.

          Now, the yankees are most probably very safe in terms of making the playoffs given the huge pitching depth. They have basically no need of a stable .5 to 1 win from ibanez, but if maxwell can turn the corner for a bit he is going to be a useful asset for a while with far greater flexibility. i’d eat the risk and go for the dinger with maxwell here. it is also consistent with the idea that you want to get as much talent as possible into the organization.

          • Rookie

            Very well stated, awy.

        • Havok9120

          But he’s striking out a third of the time against Minor League pitching. Its not like that’s going to improve against MLB level guys if we just find him the ABs. Especially since the ABs have to come from somewhere.

          Say he “breaks out” in the MLB. What is he then? Does he remain what he was offensively in the minors against the better pitching in the MLB? Which would make him, what? A decent 4th OFer? I’ll take the “upside” of Ibanez over that, especially since we’ve already paid for Raul.

          • awy

            if maxwell breaks out he will be a major piece for some team. there is a lot of value in that relative to the 1 and done ibanez

  • Monterowasdinero

    YS will never be Maxwell’s House.

    • mustang

      Unfortunate because he has been good to last drop this spring.

      • mustang

        to the last drop this spring

    • Fernando

      He might get a “cup of coffee” with some team, but his big K ratio just isn’t “my cup of tea”.

  • Eirias

    April is the cruelest month, breeding

    Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

    Memory and desire, stirring

    Dull roots with spring rain

    And baseball.

    • http://twitter/TheRealJeromeS Jerome S.

      The Wasteland


  • Joe

    I think he could be a fit for the Astros in a platoon with Schafer in center and a part time right fielder. The Astros should be targeting these kind of high upside AAAA players.

    I think in the wake of the Sizemore injury, Brantley’s lack of real skills, and the lefty lineup in Cleveland, Maxwell could be a fit for the Indians too.

  • http://www.yankeeanalysts.com Eric

    I think he could be worth bringing north if Swisher is still banged up come Opening Day, and having an extra outfielder might be advantageous. Otherwise, I’m not sure there’s much reason (other than spring training numbers) to believe that he will be a better option against righties than Ibanez.

    • Havok9120

      That’d be six (!!!) outfielders unless Swish is somehow on DL. That’d be a bit of overkill. I’d rather have Cabral.

  • DM

    Sell him to a Japanese team.

    • Plank

      I tried selling myself to a Japanese team. It…did not go well.

      • DM

        You obviously didn’t read Darrell Rasner’s classic on the subject, “How I became a Golden Eagle” — foreword by Romulo Sanchez.