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Prospect Retrospective: Cameron Maybin, OF, San Diego Padres

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Cameron Maybin
Cameron Maybin

San Diego Padres outfielder Cameron Maybin has been suspended 25 games for medically-unauthorized use of amphetamines. I have been planning to write a Prospect Retrospective for Maybin, so this seems like as good a time as any.

Maybin was one of the top prep players available in the 2005 draft, an exceptional athlete with all five tools. Drafted by the Tigers in the first round from high school in Arden, North Carolina, he was drafted 10th overall but signed too late to play that summer. In my 2006 book I gave him a "default Grade B', noting that his tools were excellent but "there is some concern among scouts about Maybin’s strike zone judgment, which is never what you want to hear about a young player, but the general consensus is that he will hit eventually."

Maybin was sent to Low-A West Michigan in 2006. He performed very well, hitting .304/.387/.457 with 27 steals, 50 walks, and 116 strikeouts in 385 at-bats. Here's the comment I wrote for him in my 2007 book:

Drafted in the first round in 2005, Cameron Maybin lived up to all expectations in 2006. All of his tools rate as above average or better. His skills still need a bit of work, but with more experience he should be a Seven Skill guy, contributing in all aspects of offensive and defensive play. His numbers in the Midwest League were strong (OPS +22, SEC + 53), the only flaw being a high strikeout rate. He is also an outstanding defensive outfielder, possibly capable of winning Gold Gloves at the major league level. His power still needs some development, but scouts are confident that it will come in time. Although I’m mildly concerned about the high strikeout rate, the fact that he also draws walks is a good sign. Maybin looks like an elite talent to me. Grade A-.

The Tigers were very aggressive with Maybin in '07. He opened the season with High-A Lakeland, which was reasonable enough. He hit .304/.393/.486 with 10 homers, 43 walks, 83 strikeouts in 296 at-bats along with 25 steals. He played six additional games in Double-A (hitting .400 with four homers) but then spent several weeks in the majors. Not surprisingly, he was totally over-matched at the plate (7-for-49, .143, three walks, 21 strikeouts) although he impressed with five steals and strong defense. He was then traded to the Marlins as the key prospect in the Miguel Cabrera deal.

The centerpiece prospect in the Miguel Cabrera trade, Maybin could be Florida’s Opening Day center fielder. I think that is rushing things; he’s not ready yet. He had major problems controlling the strike zone during his major league trial late last summer. This is hardly damning: he was just 20 years old, with all of six Double-A games under his belt. In the minors, Maybin showed a good walk rate. He struck out a lot, but his bat speed (and his running speed) kept his batting average high. His production in the Florida State League was excellent with a +23 percent OPS. He’s also a very good center fielder. The only real negative I see, other than the elevated strikeout rate, is injuries. He had hamstring problems in ’06, and a shoulder injury cost him a month of playing time in ’07. His type of wiry- strong body is often prone to muscle pulls and cramps, and that could slow his development a bit. Now, for all of his success, there are some skeptics out there among the stathead community. Maybin hits the ball on the ground a lot, and while this enables him to beat out infield hits with his speed, it may slow his power development. 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 is rushed, and the Marlins may very well rush him. If it were up to me, Maybin would go to Double-A to begin ’08, with a promotion to Triple-A on tap in late June if he’s playing well, then a chance to start in the majors in ’09. In the long run, Maybin should be a 20-25 homer hitter with a high batting average, a solid OBP, and 30-40 steals, at least when he’s younger. Grade A-.

As noted, sabermetric types were worried about Maybin hitting too many ground balls but that didn't seem like a big deal to me at the time. That type of batted-ball data analysis for minor league players was in its infancy then and I take it more seriously now, with Maybin being a key reason why.

The Marlins were less aggressive than the Tigers in 2008 and gave Maybin most of the year in Double-A, where he hit .277/.375/.456 with 13 homers, 21 steals, 60 walks, and 124 strikeouts in 390 at-bats.

Cameron Maybin is very likely to open 2009 as Florida’s center fielder. A possible Seven Skill player, he will provide plenty of speed, excellent center field defense including a strong throwing arm, at least moderate power and a high walk rate. He will also strike out a lot, and could struggle to keep his batting average much above .250, at least in the short run. Maybin’s tools are undeniable, and his skills have improved a great deal. I remain concerned about the high strikeout rate, and scouts point to some problems with his swing mechanics that could preclude hitting for a good batting average even in the long run. 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. Overall, it’s hard to beat Maybin’s package of tools and skills, and I still rate him as a Grade A- prospect. Just don’t expect any batting titles.

As you can see, the ground ball issue, along with scout critiques about Maybin's swing mechanics, were beginning to worry me but I kept him rated as an A- due to his broad range of skills.

It turns out those worries were valid. Maybin played regularly in 2010, 2011, and 2012, struggling to hit for average and power. His on-base skills were also disappointing, which was unfortunate because once on base he proved a very efficient stealer. He lost most of 2013 with injury, showed no signs of improving his hitting skills this year, and is now suspended.

There's no way you can spin Maybin's career .248/.309/.370, 89 wRC+ offensive line as anything but seriously disappointing. But for all that, he still comes out decently in WAR terms (8.7 fWAR in three years of playing time) due to his exceptionally good outfield defense.

Through age 26, Maybin's modified Sim Score comps are Rich Becker, Marvell Wynne, Luis Matos, George Wright, Mickey Stanley, Mike Anderson, Fred Valentine, Ken Berry, and Larry Hisle. PECOTA comps include Franklin Gutierrez, Dexter Fowler, Drew Stubbs, Tom Tresh, Brian Anderson, Ryan Sweeney, Chris Young, and Carlos Gomez. Most of these guys were defense-first players who didn't hit much, with only Hisle and Gomez showing particularly good offensive development in their late 20s.

Maybin's glovework makes him a player with value, but he's not the all-around star I thought he'd be. Injuries haven't helped, but the warning signs were there all along and it was a good lesson to learn.