30 Players in 30 Days: Justin Maxwell

Justin Maxwell post grand slam.jpgIt is tough to describe Justin Maxwell’s season with one word but it was a journey, a constant journey between Syracuse and Washington. He entered Spring Training with a chance to start in right field, a spot left vacant when the Nats jettisoned Elijah Dukes on St. Patrick’s Day. He didn’t make the cut–literally at the plate or figuratively on the roster–and was sent to the Minors on one of the final days of camp. He made the journey back and forth between the Majors and Minors four times during the season and finally stuck with the Nats on August 2.

Maxwell has a long, equine stride the makes him look as graceful as a deer in the field but he has never found his rhythm at the plate with the Nationals. He started just 26 games–played in 67–and batted .144 (15-for-104) with three home runs, 12 RBI and 43 strikeouts. At the same time, he had 25 walks and a .305 OBP. It is there that lies the conundrum: he has a great eye at the plate but has too many holes in his swing and frequently strikes out. As an everyday center fielder for the Chiefs, he batted .287 (66-for-230) with six home runs, 21 RBI and a .390 OBP in 66 games.

The Maryland native never got a chance to play every day in the Majors and was used primarily against lefties. It raises the question… was he having trouble hitting because he wasn’t playing regularly or was he not playing regularly because he was having trouble hitting?

“To be a regular in the Big Leagues, you got to be able to hit right-handed pitching,” Manager Jim Riggleman said. “It is a challenge, and he works very hard and he puts in a lot of time. …We’re waiting for it all to come together.”

When the bases are loaded, he doesn’t have a problem hitting any type of pitching. He is 3-for-5 with three home runs, one walk and 13 RBI with the bases full.

Maxwell isn’t at the crossroads of his career but the 2011 season will answer a lot of questions and determine his future as a Nationals player. Can he be an everyday Major League outfielder in the Majors? He doesn’t lack speed or talent but will he be able to consistently hit right-handed pitching? We will find out next year.

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