When the Marlins called up Mike Stanton earlier this week, the baseball world teemed with excitement. It wasn’t just Marlins fans. While they were the most excited of us, the rest of the baseball world watched intently. While Stanton has always been a highly regarded prospect, this year he developed something of a mythical lore akin to Matt Wieters and Jason Heyward. In just 190 at-bats at AA, Stanton hit 21 home runs, one every nine AB. Southern League pitchers were so afraid of him that they walked him 44 times, which is 13 more times than he walked in AA last year — in 109 more AB. By all appearances, he was ready to make his major league debut.
The Marlins would have to make a few lineup adjustments to fit in Stanton, a right fielder. They already had three outfielders. Cody Ross, an established player in his third season of full-time work, would certainly remain. The casualty, then, was between 2009 Rookie Of The Year Chris Coghlan and former top prospect Cameron Maybin. Both have been disappointing so far this season, and the Marlins would probably benefit in the short-term by using Stanton as an upgrade. The odd man out, given the numbers, seemed an obvious choice.
Coghlan started off the year horribly, but his low point came early. After an 0 for 4 day against the Phillies on April 18 his triple slash sat at .109/.146/.109. Since then he’s been much more like the Coghlan we got to know last season. In his last 185 PA he’s hitting .308/.359/.432 and has been the Marlins’ leadoff hitter.
Maybin, on the other hand, presents a nearly opposite story. After that same April 18 contest Maybin was actually as this peak, hitting .309/.377/.400. Since then he has hit .189/.252/.315 in 140 PA. When the Marlins made the decision to call up Stanton, they also made the complementary decision to remove Maybin from the starting lineup. Instead of sending him back to AAA, however, they instead moved him to the bench, optioning OF Brett Carroll. Given Maybin’s considerable talent, it seems like an odd move.
For years, dating back to his professional debut in 2006, scouts and scouting publications have loved Maybin. In their Top 10 Tigers prospects list after the 2006 season, Baseball America said, “Maybin has all the tools and, all the more impressive, those tools are well developed at his young age.” They went on to say that, “Maybin has very few shortcomings,” noting his high strikeout rate as the only factor that warranted even the slightest concern. Similarly, Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein gushed about Maybin, remarking in early 2008 that, “[w]hen it comes to tools, Maybin is Home Depot.” Later that year, after the 2008 season, Goldstein again sang Maybin’s praises. “Maybin’s raw tools rate with those of any other prospect in the game,” he said.
Yet, for all the accolades, strikeouts became a bigger problem for Maybin as he advanced levels. In his pre-season assessment of Maybin, Goldstein noted Maybin’s biggest problem area. “He understands the strike zone well enough, but needs to improve his pitch recognition, as he’s prone to chasing breaking balls out of the zone,” he said. In the postseason assessment he said something similar: “His swing has a pronounced trigger in it, which makes it difficult for him to adjust on pitches in flight, often forcing him to flail badly.” The only question, then, was the degree to which this would hold him back at the major league level. The answer, as we’ve seen this year, is considerably.
A look at Maybin’s pitch type values shows that he has trouble with non-fastballs. His positive marks come on the cutter and split-finger, while he has a slightly positive mark on the four-seamer. Sliders, curveballs, and changeups all seemingly give him fits. It’s not exactly that he’s chasing these pitches outside the zone; his O-Swing% is a bit above league average but not greatly so. Instead, he’s missing a significant number of these pitches, 53.5 percent against a 66.3 percent league average. He’s also faring relatively poorly on pitches inside the zone, making contact on just 82.9 percent of his swings against an 88.3 percent league average. This shows up in his swinging strike rate, 11.6 percent, up about a point from last year and 3.4 points above league average.
It would seem, then, that pitch recognition remains Maybin’s biggest weakness as a hitter. He won’t learn to recognize pitches while sitting on the bench, though, so again the Marlins’ decision to leave him in the majors seems an odd one. He might not see high quality breaking balls in AAA, but that would still afford him a better chance to learn than a bench role on the major league roster. The Marlins, as we’ve learned in the past few years, are a shrewd organization. Surely they have a plan here.
Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac sheds some light on the situation. This weekend the Marlins head to St. Petersburg to play the Rays, and then, after two home series, will travel to Baltimore for a final interleague matchup. That gives the Marlins six games in which they can use the DH, and therefore use all four of their outfielders. It’s possible that they’ll use the next two weeks as an evaluation of sorts. If Maybin doesn’t show improvement, then maybe he’ll head back to AAA where he can continue to work on his pitch recognition.
Plenty could change between now and the trade deadline if the Marlins don’t work their way back into contention. Given the current outlook, though, it seems like Maybin will find his ticket to AAA at the conclusion of the Baltimore series. If pitch recognition is at the center of his issues, then he’ll do better to work on that playing every day in the minors rather than a couple times a week in the bigs. The Marlins have the option, and I suspect that they’ll use it. If that fails they’ll have to draw up a new plan, but for now it seems like the future of Cameron Maybin rests on his ability to develop his pitch recognition skill.
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