Maxwell showing Nats what's in store
Center fielder proving maturity, talent as spring progresses
JUPITER, Fla. -- One can understand why the Nationals believe they have a future star in center fielder Justin Maxwell. At 24, he already acts like he's a veteran. Before games, Maxwell is in the computer room watching video of opposing pitchers he will face. During games, he has a flair for the dramatic.
Take, for example, Tuesday night's game against the Dodgers at Vero Beach, Fla. With a runner on first and two outs in the ninth inning, John-Ford Griffin hit a liner that looked like it was going to drop for a base hit. But Maxwell dove to make a spectacular head-first catch to end the game.
"This kid does not get intimidated," said Nationals manager Manny Acta. "He continues to show the makeup that he has."
Maxwell has been showing the Nationals his makeup since he was called up to the Minor Leagues on Sept. 4 last year. The first hit of his big league career was a pinch-hit grand slam against Marlins left-hander Chris Seddon.
After that, Maxwell platooned with Ryan Church in center field, and the results were positive. Maxwell wasn't fazed when he faced then-Mets left-hander Tom Glavine. Maxwell hit a solo home run against the future Hall of Famer in a 10-9 victory on Sept. 25. Three days later, with tough Cole Hamels on the mound for the Phillies, Maxwell went 2-for-3.
Maxwell said that he was successful in his brief time in the big leagues because teammates Dmitri Young and Robert Fick took him under their wing and taught him how to prepare for a game.
Fick was the one who helped teach Maxwell how to become a pinch-hitter and Young was the big brother who told Maxwell about the do's and don'ts about big league life -- on and off the field.
"Fick has been in the game a long time, so when I came off the bench to pinch-hit, he would tell me what the relievers would throw," Maxwell said. "Dmitri would show me the ropes."
Maxwell success in the Major Leagues will not earn him a chance to make the 25-man roster on Opening Day, however. The Nationals want him to start the season at Double-A Harrisburg, because they want him to polish his game, such as leaning how to not to be vulnerable to pitches on the outside part of the plate.
Maxwell has played only one full season of professional baseball and that was last year, when he was named the Nationals' Minor League Player of the Year.
Maxwell agrees with the Nationals' decision to send him to Harrisburg. The big league club is loaded with outfielders and if he made the club, Maxwell would have been on the bench.
"It's no surprise [that I'll be sent down]," Maxwell said. "Last year was my first full season. I know they want me to get more experience and polish my game. My wife told me this the other day: If I'm up in the big leagues, I probably will not play every day. In Double-A, I know I'm going to play every day and get those at-bats.
"Either way, I would be happy just to play this game. It's a blessing in itself. I can't even call this a job."
Acta is a person who is confident that Maxwell will be back in the big leagues and become a major factor on the team.
"This year is going to be key for him," Acta said. "Depending on what he does in Double-A, he's going to tell us what we do with him next. He has great makeup and he knows that regardless of guys who are in front of him -- if he does what he supposed to do -- we'll find a spot for him down the line."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.