Yesterday a reader noted that I had yet to write up Oakland Athletics rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell. Maxwell came up right before the trade deadline and got buried in all the transaction news, so let's correct that oversight.
Here's the report on Maxwell from the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book.
Bruce Maxwell, C, Oakland Athletics
Bats: L Throws: R HT: 6-2 WT: 235 DOB: December 20, 1990
2013: Grade C; 2014: Grade C
A beast at Birmingham Southern in 2012, Maxwell was drafted in the second round that June but hasn’t hit nearly as well in pro ball. When drafted his glove was supposed to be weak but has actually turned out very well: he threw out 37% last year and has dramatically improved his receiving and blocking skills over the last two seasons. He can catch in the majors. Can he hit? He showed good strike zone judgment but little power in A-ball then was overmatched in a month of Double-A last year. He’s big and strong and looks like he should hit for power, but his swing doesn’t translate that strength into distance. I don’t know if that can change, but for anything good to happen he’s got to regain his contact abilities against advanced pitching. Grade C.
Maxwell did not have a very good 2015 season, hitting just .243/.321/.308 in Double-A, so I didn't put him in the 2016 book. However, he boosted his stock this spring and summer with a .321/.393/.539 march through the Pacific Coast League with Nashville, with 10 homers, 24 walks, and 38 strikeouts in 193 at-bats for the Sounds. That pushed him back onto the radar and into the majors.
As noted in '15, Maxwell as a masher in college, hitting .471/.619/.928 his junior year with a spectacular 59/11 BB/K in 153 at-bats in '12. He failed to come anywhere close to that in pro ball and his tear through the PCL this year was the strongest sustained run of success he's experienced in the system. As noted in the '15 book his defense has been solid enough for him to remain behind the plate; he caught 39% of runners at Nashville with low passed ball and error rates.
So what's going on here with the bat?
Maxwell never lost his command of the strike zone; that's been a constant throughout his career. A look through his spray charts at MLBfarm.com reveals that (as you'd expect from the numbers) he's hitting the ball further this year, but the distribution of where those hits go (left, center, right) hasn't changed much. He pulls the ball on the infield a lot (and always has) but shots to the outfield can go just about anywhere; they are simply going a longer distance this year.
I haven't seen Maxwell in person this year; the last time I got a good look at him was in 2014. Looking back at my old notes, I felt his swing, while compact, was rather level and geared for line drives, not showing much loft, and wondered how that swing produced so much power in college.
Here's some video from 2013.
In contrast, this swing from a July home run has more loft than what he showed previously. He also appears to have closed up his stance somewhat compared to '13.
Maxwell is just 3-for-27 in the majors so far so perhaps these changes are for naught. Still, the sample is small, and a left-handed hitting catcher who can handle his position can stay employed for a long time if he shows any kind of hitting at all.