By: Ben Leonard
The Gary Brown era, if you want to call it that, is over before it started in Sacramento. The Giants decided to designate the speedy outfielder for assignment on Tuesday, leaving the hot-hitting Justin Maxwell a spot on the active roster. Anyone who has watched the Giants play this Cactus League season would have noticed his presence, leading the depleted offense with 14 RBI’s, a .349 batting average, and a .922 OPS. Maxwell has been great this spring. But can he continue at this rate?
Hitting coach Hensley Muelens spent a lot of time with Maxwell this spring, preaching a more consistent swing and approach for the former Nationals’ fourth round pick. Maxwell, 31, is no young prospect, but his coachability has certainly paid off.
Perhaps his more consistent approach will pay dividends for the versatile outfielder. Maxwell has never been a contact hitter, striking frequently throughout his career, posting a career 32.1 K%. But the work he’s put in to fine-tune his swing seems to have paid off. Check out his swing from 2013. Even though he did launch this ball for a walk-off grand slam, his hands are much higher in this video than they are now.
Leaving one’s hands up can lead one to cast the barrel and have a longer, less consistent swing. Dropping his hands like he did after working with Muelens allows for a more direct swing path to the ball, bringing the knob of the bat directly to the ball. Theoretically, this should create a more repeatable swing built for line drives. Take this swing here, for example: it’s much more compact, and even though he doesn’t get all of it, he still makes contact and drives in a run.
This adjustments should result in a lower strikeout rate, valuable in a bench role. Maxwell has always had the power, but for him, taking his success to the next level depended on consistency, which he is primed for now. He struck out much less than he has throughout his career this spring, fanning only 16 times in 67 plate appearances, a 23.8 K%. In addition, he hasn’t lost any of his power (career .193 ISO), slugging .540 in Cactus League play.
Maxwell seems to be turning into the best bench piece the Giants have had in years. He has solid speed to go along with his plus bat for a bench player, far superior to the Juan Perez’s and Tony Abreu’s of the past. His defense is perfectly average, with a career total of 0 DRS, but the Giants don’t need Adam Eaton or Billy Hamilton out there to be satisfied defensively. They need depth behind their fragile outfield and thump off of the bench.
Look, a bench player isn’t something to get too excited about, but the Giants might have something special in Maxwell. One could argue that I’m reading too much into Spring Training stats, but Maxwell’s tangible adjustments seem to have him destined to improve. It’s not like he’s some scrub that rode luck to an inflated batting average; he’s had success before, leading Houston in WAR in 2012. Expect around a .280 average from Maxwell, a wRC+ of about 105, and solid defense off of the bench. He could push his way into the lineup more often if either Norichika Aoki or Gregor Blanco struggle in left.
The Giants made a good move in DFA’ing Brown; they could get some value via trade for the outfielder if a team claims him on waivers. If he clears waivers, they could keep him in the organization. Some might call it short-sighted, but really, it’s best for Brown to get a change of scenery, and for the Giants to finally recognize that Brown was a bust and stop wasting their time on him.
Stats and info courtesy of Baseball-Reference, SFGiants.com, and FanGraphs
Cover Image: By Dirk Hansen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons