Not a Rookie: Cameron Maybin
Cameron Maybin of the Florida Marlins has been one of the biggest prospect disappointments in the last few years. He was supposed to be a multi-skilled star, but instead has struggled to establish himself in the majors. What went wrong here, and is there any hope?
Cameron Maybin was drafted by the Tigers in the first round of the 2005 draft, from high school in Arden, North Carolina. The 10th overall pick, he signed too late to play that summer. Scouts rated him as exceptionally toolsy, with strong speed as well as good power potential, and also loved his personality and work ethic. I gave him a Grade B in the 2006 book based on these reports, but also noted that some scouts had questions about his plate discipline and strike zone judgment. It was expected that this would improve in time.
The Tigers sent Maybin to Low-A West Michigan to start his pro career. He responded with a .308/.390/.463 mark, with 27 steals, 49 walks, and 115 strikeouts in 380 at-bats. The K-rate was high and scouts were concerned about his ability to make contact as well as some rough swing mechanics. But his walk rate was higher than expected, he showed the ability to listen to coaches and make adjustments, and it was hard to argue with an .853 OPS (+122) in the pitching-oriented Midwest League. He also showed Gold Glove-caliber defense. I gave him a Grade A-, ranked at number 16 on the hitting prospect list.
2007 was a strange year. A shoulder injury cost him a month of playing time, but he did very well when on the field at High-A Lakeland, hitting .304/.393/.486 with 25 steals in 83 games. His walk rate went up, and his strikeouts went down slightly. Promoted to Double-A Erie, he went 8-for-20 (.400) with six walks in six games, at which point the Tigers called him up to the majors. I thought this was stupid and reckless, and wasn't surprised when he hit .143/.208/.265 in 24 games, with a 3/21 BB/K in 49 at-bats. He then became the centerpiece in the Miguel Cabrera trade, shipped off to Florida.
Some sabermetric types pointed out that Maybin hit the ball on the ground a lot and doubted his power development. I wrote "Some people think it may stall his development altogether, although I don't buy that. I'm more worried about the strikeouts eating into his batting average if he's rushed." I still gave him a Grade A- in the 2008 book, and ranked him sixth overall.
Although there was some talk of Maybin being in center field for 2008, the Marlins wisely kept him in Double-A, where he hit .277/.375/.456 for Carolina, 21 steals, 60 walks, 124 strikeouts in 390 at-bats. He had more injury problems, including a ribcage injury and a staph infection, but his late-season major league trial was spectacular: 16-for-32 in eight games. Obviously that was fluky-small-sample-size, but it was certainly fun.
My review in the '09 book was somewhat cautious. I wrote ‘He will always strike out a lot, and could struggle to keep his batting average much above .250. . .scouts point to some problems with his swing mechanics. . .statheads worry that he hits too many balls on the ground and won't develop his natural power fully. These are real concerns, and ideally I'd like him to get 100 games of Triple-A under his belt before being pushed to the majors." I still gave him a Grade A- due to his overall package, but wrote "not to expect batting titles." I figured the power, speed, and defense would be very valuable even if he was hitting in the .260s.
Maybin split '09 between Triple-A (.319/.399/.463 for New Orleans) and the majors (.250/.318/.409), but was unable to hold his job this spring and is back in the minors again. In 439 major league at-bats over 137 games, he's hit .246/.311/.376 with 21 doubles, 10 homers, 37 walks, and 136 strikeouts, OPS+ of 80. His defense has been very good and he uses his speed well, 16-for-20 in steal attempts. But otherwise he's been quite disappointing.
The cause is no secret: he has severe problems with breaking balls. The strikeout issue, which was apparent in the minors, has indeed haunted him against major league pitching.
Will he rebound? Maybin is only 23 years old, and I think it is foolish to give up on him at this point. If he'd gone to college, he wouldn't have even been drafted until 2008, and 2010 would be his second full professional season. He's also had injury issues, including off-season surgery this year to repair a labrum tear, a pulled groin, and current shoulder soreness keeping him on the DL at New Orleans. Being in frequent pain certainly isn't good for player development.
Given his age, pedigree, and athleticism, I think there is a very good chance Maybin will still be a fine major league player. He needs better health, and more time to figure out the strike zone.