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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.

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 3, 2010; 8:51 AM ET
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J-Max has a tough road ahead, I think he needs to outplay all of the other possible reserves during Spring Training or he will be spend most of 2010 in Syracuse. J-Max is a good defender, althoughhe has the propsenity to dive for the ball too much instead of staying his feet, but his bat has not progressed as well as others in the organization. I think if Bernadina can prove that he still has the same speed post-injury hat he displayed previously he is our #5 OF. This is just one of many bench position battles that is dependent on the performance of others as well as the player in question...Orr, Duncan, Morse, Bruntlett, Desmond, Tavares and I believe even Willie Harris fall into this jumble that is the bench on a team that for the 1st time in 5 years has no starting position questions in Spring Training. Thanks for the update Adam.

Posted by: markfd | March 3, 2010 9:12 AM | Report abuse

I agree Maxwell is a long shot for the 25 man on April 1st. But, Dukes is not real secure in right. If he struggles, I don't think they will hesitate to try Maxwell or Bernadina - whoever is playing better.

Posted by: Avar | March 3, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

This was a nice copy and paste job from Nats Insider.

Posted by: trezmartin | March 3, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

The quality and the quantity of your posts have been great. Keep it up.

Let's play two!

Posted by: SlowPitch63 | March 3, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

With Harris, Bruntlett, Morse and Orr they already have more than enough IF/OF utility guys on this roster. That's why any talk of Desmond making the team as a utility guy is just a smokescreen. As long as Guzman is healthy and not tanking at a Kearns level, Desmond will be playing every day in the minors this year - at least until the final disposal plan for Guzman becomes clear.

Posted by: TBCTBC | March 3, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

I'll tell you something here. I think that Justin Maxwell should be in a tussle with Josh Willingham for the starting left field position. I think that if we gave Maxwell a chance he could learn to either lay off or hit those high inside pitches that he gets caught with now (but got caught with a lot less toward the end of last season), and he would be such a huge improvement over Willingham in the field that he would be an overall plus.

Or, if Dukes fizzles (unlikely but possible), Maxwell could go into right and Bernardina could play left, and then our coverage would be even better.

I drool over the prospect of a Maxwell/Morgan/Dukes, or Bernardina/Morgan/Maxwell outfield. Our coverage in the field would match any team's in the league.

Posted by: FergusonFoont | March 3, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

TBC I agree, Des needs to be as good a SS as he can be so he can be our starter next year, or if Guz gets hurt. Having him become a backup outfielder on a team with many backup outfielders is a waste of time.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | March 3, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Maxwell, Morgan, & Dukes, sounds like a law firm

Posted by: SpashCity | March 3, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

"Tickets going fast". There will be no opening day sellout that's for sure. I predict no sellouts all year!

Posted by: mintbucket | March 3, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

That was not even close to a cut and past job, trezmartin. With as many posts as both Nats Insider and AK are doing, and given that this is a major story in ST, why wouldn't they both write about it? AK is giving us more thorough coverage than we have ever had, and I for one am enjoying it very much.

Posted by: NatsFly | March 3, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

The AK post did not even mention Willy Taveras and Chris Duncan vying for spots. Maxwell is going to have a very hard time making the club.

Dukes is a dead bolt lock in RF, nothing shaky about it. The guy has 30+ HR power, he has plus speed and he's a plus defender in Riggleman's eyes.

Maxwell's problem is that he is OK at everything, not great at anything. Nice 4th OF, but on a club that has Harris making $1.5M and the slew of other solid 4th OF's (like 5 of them), some guys are going to be left out. Barring injury, it looks like Justin should be prepared to head to 'Cuse in a few weeks or be traded to another club.

Posted by: dfh21 | March 3, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Maxwell = Trade Bait?

Posted by: Juan-John1 | March 3, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

With all the guys Rizzo signed plus the promotions last year its going to be really hard to make SYRACUSE's outfield too!

Posted by: periculum | March 3, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I have no reason to believe that Maxwell is trade bait by any strecth, just that he may have more value for another organization.

Posted by: dfh21 | March 3, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

With all the guys Rizzo signed plus the promotions last year its going to be really hard to make SYRACUSE's outfield too!

Posted by: periculum | March 3, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

This is true and very promising for us. Duncans health will be a factor. But a SYR outfield with Maxwell, Bernidina, and Taveras would have to be the fastest ever assembled.

Posted by: Stu27 | March 3, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Taveras is a known quantity. Good speed, one of the worst offensive players in MLB. If the Nats want him in the system as insurance, well, ok. But he can fill that role sitting on the bench in Syracuse. He shouldn't take playing time from any younger player.

Posted by: utec | March 3, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Have to disagree. The quantity of posts is good, but the quality is very debatable (not to mention the grammar). And why do you keep promoting ticket sales. You should not be reporting when tickets go on sale or the pace of sales (in a "get your tickets quick" sort of way). You do not work for the Nationals and such comments give the appearance of a level of partiality and bias not found in a serious journalist.

Posted by: kfisher32 | March 4, 2010 12:04 AM | Report abuse

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