Sunday Notes: Maybin, Gordon, Harris, more

A somewhat shorter Sunday Notes column this week, as I’m on vacation in Upper Michigan.

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It’s taken 10 years and four organizations, but Cameron Maybin has finally found himself. The toolsy outfielder’s professional journey began in 2005 when he was drafted 10th overall by the Tigers. Two years later, he was a key piece in the franchise-altering eight-player trade that sent Miguel Cabrera from Miami to Motown. Burdened with expectations, Maybin failed to flourish with the Fish. Subsequently swapped to San Diego, he continued to find stardom elusive.

Atlanta and his age-28 season are proving to be a panacea. In his first year with the Braves, the long-anticipated breakout has manifested itself. Maybin is playing a mean center field and is hitting .290/.358/.417 with eight home runs and 15 steals.

According to Maybin, no switch has been flipped. Nor does he feel he’s plateaued.

“I honestly don’t think the light has gone off,” Maybin told me. “I’m just slowly becoming more aware of the things I need to do in order to put myself in position to have success. I don’t think I’m close to being the player I can.”

Molding Maybin into the player he is has been a process. Many fingers have been in the proverbial pie, and that was part of the problem. With each stumble came a new suggestion.

“As a really good athlete, a lot of people have wanted me to try this, try that,” said Maybin. “I think I was maybe a little too coachable early in my career. I was raised to be open-minded, but there’s a fine line between being coachable and just doing the things that work for you.

“I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried an open stance. They wanted me to stand tall. They wanted me to stand down. Everybody is trying to help you, but certain things work for certain people. Sometimes that’s the basis you need to work from. Pretty much everybody in this room was a good player at a young age.”

That’s not to say adjustments weren’t needed, and Maybin recognizes that. A self-described “long-limbed guy,” Maybin has “cleaned things up” by shortening his swing and becoming more disciplined in his approach. He considers the latter a key to his emergence. Conversations with his coaches are, “continually, continually, about approach, approach, approach.”

He’s not focusing on simply putting balls in play and taking advantage of his wheels. As well as he runs, that’s simply not his style. To their credit, the organizations he’s played for have largely recognized that. They’ve tweaked, but not twisted, his all-around skills.

“I’m not your typical slap guy, or a bunt-and-run guy,” said Maybin. “I’m a guy with a lot of tools, so no one has ever told me I need to be a Juan Pierre, so to speak. That’s just not my makeup.”

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Dee Gordon is a slight-of-build, lefty-swinging speedster. A modern day Matty Alou (or, if you prefer, Juan Pierre), he slashes balls the other way, then turns on his burners. The Marlins second baseman went into the break with 101 singles, 33 steals, and a .338 batting average.

Gordon – generously listed at 5′ 11”, 170 lbs – is following in his father’s footsteps by proving that you don’t have to be big to do big things. Tom “Flash” Gordon was a 5′ 9” pitcher who won 138 games and saved 158 more. He also taught his son “what pitchers can and can’t do.” Exactly what that is shall remain a family secret. When I inquired, the youngster responded with a sly, “I can’t tell you that.”

Gordon came up through the Dodgers system – Miami acquired him in a seven-player trade this past offseason – and he developed his stroke under the tutelage of Gene Clines and Franklin Stubbs.

“My strength is hitting the ball the other way, but that didn’t always come natural,” admitted Gordon. “I tried to play a little bigger than I should have at some points, even in my first couple of years in the major leagues. The coaches I worked with showed me how to tone that down.”

One of those coaches was the polar opposite. Gordon’s game began flourishing last year under Mark McGwire. Big Mac taught him a lot, but again, details weren’t forthcoming from the Miami might mite.

“Actually, I don’t even like talking about hitting too much,” said Gordon. “I’m so small. Hitting is something you talk to the bigger guys about. But it ain’t about how big you are, it’s about how you play.”

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Will Harris didn’t represent the Astros in the All-Star Game. That’s not a surprise. Harris is a set-up man and set-up men don’t get the glory. What they do get is important outs, and the 27-year-old righty has been amassing them at an all-star-worthy rate.

Much to the chagrin of D-Backs fans – Houston claimed him off of waivers from Arizona in November – Harris has allowed just 17 hits in 42-and-a-third innings. His ERA over 37 appearances is a microscopic 0.85.

His primary offering is a cutter that isn’t a cutter. Harris gets natural cut on his four-seam fastball, and the pitch is so effective that he’s throwing it 81.7 percent of the time. As recently as a few years ago, he didn’t understand why it does what it does.

“It kind of came around for me in Double-A,” said Harris. “My pitching coach, Dave Schuler, explained what I’m doing that makes me cut the ball. It’s all about my wrist angle. Since then, I’ve had a better idea of what’s happening on days when it’s flattening out, or when I’m cutting it too much.

“I just like it to cut a little bit – I don’t want it to be too big – and I’m not really trying to make it cut. When I do that, I lose a little bit of location, which gets me in trouble.”

Last year, his curveball got him in trouble. He lost velocity on the pitch, and couldn’t figure out why. Thanks to a tweak orchestrated by his current pitching coach, he once again has a reliable hook.

“In spring training, Brent Strom worked with me on my grip,” explained Harris. “I moved it a little deeper into my hand, and that allowed me to have better arm speed. This year I’m throwing it harder (80.5 mph) than I have in the past.

“Last year, it got to the point where I didn’t want to throw it for strikes anymore. I told my catcher, Miggy Montero, If you want an off-speed pitch for a strike, I’m going to throw a changeup, because I’m getting beat on my breaking ball. When I did throw one, I tried bury it in the dirt.’

A year later, Harris is burying hitters, sans glory, on a consistent basis.

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In 2012, Josh Turley was the Pitcher of the Year for Detroit’s short-season affiliate. In 2013, he earned that same honor with their low-A affiliate. Last year, he completed the trifecta in high-A.

The 24-year-old southpaw has a good shot at four in a row. On the season, the former Baylor Bear is 9-5 with a 2.84 ERA for Double-A Erie. Earlier this week, he represented the Sea Wolves in the Eastern League All-Star Game.

Scouts aren’t bullish. Despite the accolades, Turley’s name is nowhere to be found on prospect lists. He excels, but he doesn’t excel sexy. His K-rate is a meager 5.8, and six-foot tall finesse pitchers are wallflowers in the rankings world. Their ceilings are too low.

Then again, most finesse pitchers don’t flirt with butterflies.

Turley commands a six-pitch mix that includes a hard knuckleball. He doesn’t throw it often – “between five and 10 times a game” – but it’s effective when he does. When I asked him why he doesn’t feature his floater more prominently, he told me he’s not ready to do so. At least not yet. For now, it’s simply an extra weapon.

“I like to use my other pitches,” said Turley, who considers his changeup his top offering. “I can throw all of them for strikes, and I mix well and work backwards at times. I try to make hitters uncomfortable, and the knuckleball adds to that effect. Even though it’s mostly in my back pocket, it’s in their minds.”

Turley has a good head on his shoulders. He realizes his stuff may not play at the highest level, and that it takes more than moxie to make it. But until opposing hitters tell him otherwise, he won’t be channeling his inner Wilbur Wood.

“There’s a chance I can make it as a conventional pitcher,” said Turley “I just have to keep proving myself by putting up good numbers. At the same time, I know my knuckleball can be a big-league pitch, and that’s what could get me there. The thought has definitely crossed my mind. It’s something I can see myself doing down the line, maybe when I’m told it’s something I need to do.”

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Last week’s column included Steve Cishek’s struggles, specifically the issues he had with his delivery. The Marlins reliever righted that ship, but he encountered another obstacle after returning from an adjustment-targeted stint in the minors. He came back in a different role – he was no longer the club’s closer — and less pressure proved problematic.

“When you go into a game in the sixth inning, there’s not the same adrenaline that there is in the ninth,” explained Cishek. “I pitch off of pure adrenaline. I love the intensity. I’m not saying the sixth inning doesn’t matter, but it’s a completely different animal. I actually feel more relaxed in the ninth inning with the game on the line. In a weird sense, I’d rather be a little more uncomfortable, mentally. I like to be a little nervous, if that makes sense.”

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Tracy Stallard, the pitcher who gave up Roger Maris’ 61st home run in 1961, came to the plate 258 times without drawing a walk. He i the only hitter in big-league history with 200 or more plate appearances and no walks.

Starling Marte leads all players with 24 infield hits. Dee Gordon is second with 22. Jose Altuve, Nori Aoki, Billy Burns and Starlin Castro all have 18.

The Red Sox have 97 infield hits, the most in the majors. The Dodgers have 49 infield hits, the least in the majors.

On this date in 1936, 17-year-old Bob Feller made his major league debut, pitching one in of relief for the Indians.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Maybin, Gordon, Harris, more by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Ted Brogan
Guest
Ted Brogan

As much as I’d like to see Cameron Maybin finally become the player he can be, that .333 BABIP may be contributing to the bump. That coupled with his steps back on defense kind of make you wonder how long his limelight will last.

Squirrel
Guest
Squirrel

His BABIP is perfectly reasonable for someone with his speed and batted ball profile. Check out his line drive rate and note that he’s done a good job of cutting down on weak contact. He’s also hitting over 55% of everything on the ground, which plays well with his speed. Everything he’s done this year is reasonable and completely sustainable.

Honestly, he could probably even see a slight uptick in BABIP and it still wouldn’t seem out of line.

Squirrel
Guest
Squirrel

Also, we know that this new found success is the result of tangible changes he’s made to his approach and swing mechanics, which makes his production even more plausible.

Salter1432
Member
Salter1432

Yeah, his BABIP is not that unreasonable. His line drive percentage is way up as is his opposite field percentage. His change in approach is the biggest reason for his success, not luck