Where Justin Maxwell fits in
All of the starting positions in the Nationals spring training, like first base, have more or less been decided. The bench is an entirely different matter. Willie Harris and Wil Nieves are basic locks, and after them the wheat will start separating from a vast pile of chaff tomorrow, when games begin.
Among that group is outfielder Justin Maxwell. He is 26. He's had several cups of coffee spanning three seasons. In 27 games at the end of last season, Maxwell hit .292 with a .370 OBP and a .554 slugging percentage. He is a strong fourth outfielder possibility with a "good chance to make the team," Manager Jim Riggleman said.
But with so many bench candidates, you can't look at Maxwell in a vacuum. Roger Bernadina is a year younger and may have a higher ceiling. The Nationals have a crowded outfield with Elijah Dukes, Josh Willingham and Nyjer Morgan solidly in place, and some of the at-bats Harris needs will come when he is spelling an outfielder. Maxwell is a solid defensive player, but he lacks the versatility of Ian Desmond, who will be playing some outfield this spring, and Mike Morse, who plays outfield and first base, and is even trying out some catching in case of emergency. (Riggleman has also expressed satisfation with how Morse handled his call-up last year, contributing solid at-bats despite intermittent playing time.)
Maxwell has been down this road. Last year, he thought he would make the team out of camp, and was crushed when he did not. When he got called up for two stints early in the year, he had a .443 OPS in 29 plate appearances. He learned from that.
"I don't focus on all the negative stuff," Maxwell said. "I just focus on what I have to do to be a better player. There's an adjustment period. Last year, when I got sent down in April, I was pretty bummed out. I didn't know the team's plans for me then, and I didn't go about it the right way. Having that experience and learning from that past, that mentality, I'll never do that again."
All of this will be sorted out over the next month, starting Thursday when the games get going. It's just one of many subplots within the fights for the final bench positions.
Elsewhere, Stephen Strasburg's first spring training start is less than a week away, which makes you wonder what kind of Tigers lineup he'll face. Chico joins forces with the guys from Fire Jim Bowden and Nationals Farm Authority for an hour-long podcast. Tickets for Opening Day at Nationals Park are going fast.
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