Outfielder Justin Maxwell will come to Spring Training with a good chance to land a spot in the middle of the Astros batting order. Maxwell launched a career high 18 homeruns in 2012 to lead the team. His .460 slugging percentage was also among the best on the club.
After spending the past few seasons shuttling between the Washington Nationals and the minor leagues Maxwell finally got his chance with the Astros. Claimed off waivers from the Yankees in April, Justin wasted no time making an impression on his new team. Maxwell clubbed a homerun in his first at-bat as an Astro. What was impressive was the way he did it; using mostly his arms to reach out and lift a pitch that was low and outside. Maxwell showed he has the strength to hit a lot of homeruns in the big leagues.
Justin continued to bide his time, playing the role of pinch-hitter and waiting for an opportunity to crack the starting lineup. With guys like Jordan Schafer and Brian Bogusevic ahead of him it would only be a matter of time. In early June, Maxwell would force his way into the everyday lineup, playing all three outfield positions as needed. But a nagging ankle injury would land him on the disabled list later that month.
Maxwell went on the shelf having hit eight homeruns in only 121 at-bats for the Astros. He was one of the only legitimate power threats on the team.
Maxwell was scheduled for surgery to remove loose bodies in his left ankle. The procedure would keep him out of action for another for another four to six weeks. But team doctors soon had a change-of-heart, deciding the issue could be resolved without surgery. Maxwell went on a short minor league rehab assignment before rejoining the team on July 13th.
Declaring himself 100% healthy, Maxwell continued to see regular playing time all over the outfield. He finished the season with a career high 352 plate appearances.
Maxwell enters his age 29 season as one of the elder statesmen on a young Astros team. He has played 116 of his 188 career games in centerfield. But I’m not sure if he still qualifies as a prototypical centerfielder. His size (6′ 5″ & 235 lbs.) and power make Maxwell more of a corner outfielder type. But he could be forced into duty in center, given the fact that Brandon Barnes and Jimmy Paredes have yet to hit consistently at the big league level.
Plate discipline is one area where Maxwell needs to show some improvement. Last season he struck out 114 times for a 32.4% K rate. He also swung at 31% of pitches that were outside the strike zone. The Astros are counting on Maxwell to be a stabilizing force in a mostly inexperienced lineup. If he can show better plate discipline and stay healthy for the entire season Maxwell could produce some nice numbers.