Justin Maxwell (ESPN: 37 percent owned; Yahoo!: 14 percent owned)
If Justin Maxwell were a pitcher instead of an outfielder, his career may have ended before it even really started. While rehabbing in the minors after undergoing Tommy John surgery after the 2010 season, the former 4th round pick torn his labrum diving for a ball in the outfield. It’s a tough enough pair of injuries for a position player to work though, but for a young pitcher, it would have been a far more difficult road back to the majors.
With little more than 200 major league games on his record, Maxwell doesn’t exactly have an extensive body of work to cite, and his minor league record is marred by injury. That said, what is there is impressive. Out of his six real seasons in the minors, he posted double-digit home runs and double digit steals in the same year three times; put another way, when he’s actually been healthy, he has been productive, he just hasn’t often been healthy. In addition to the aforementioned arm injuries, Maxwell missed time last year with loose bodies in his ankle, which required offseason surgery. In the two months surrounding that DL stint, Maxwell attempted just one stolen base, and while there may be more to that low number than his injury, it’s not much of a leap to suggest that it played a role.
Arms and legs now repaired, he’s healthy, and so it should come as no surprise that he’s producing. So far this season, Maxwell has turned more than a third of his 15 hits into extra bases and has subsequently been driven in eight times. He began the season hitting in the middle of the order, which I think would have been fine, but hitting second the way he has over the last week will give him a better shot of being driven in as well as a few extra stolen base opportunities. The trade off here is, of course, that he’ll drive in fewer runs from this slot than he would hitting lower in the order, but the move seems like a net positive for his value. ZiPS has him hitting 15 home runs and stealing 11 bases, both of which seem on the low side of correct to me, especially on the home runs. The caveat here is that ZiPS is also projecting Maxwell to play in just 119 games. If he plays more, and I suspect he will, he should easily pass that projection.
For those in points leagues or leagues where strikeouts are negative category, it is worth mentioning that, like many of his Astros teammates, Maxwell does strike out with some frequency. His current rate of just below 20 percent is still well below his career rate of 31 percent; his swing rate is down and his zone contact rate is up, so it’s possible that he has made improvements, but it’s way too early to say for sure. His proclivity for doubles and triples may not do much for traditional 5X5 players, but it will help cover for some of the strikeouts in points leagues.
Maxwell has been a player I’ve been watching for a couple years now, just waiting for him to get a year of concerted playing time and plate appearances, so it’s possible I’m a little bullish on him. That said, he’s a three-category contributor who is available on the vast majority of waiver wires right now. If he continues to hit in the .280s or if he starts to steal bases the way we know he is capable of, he won’t be available for long. At the very minimum he’s an interesting stash/bench option for those with a solid outfield, and he may well play his way into starting lineups soon.
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