Washington Nationals: The Curious Case of Justin Maxwell.

It seemed obvious to some at the end of the 2010 season that the Washington Nationals' soon-to-be-27-year-old '05 4th Round pick Justin Maxwell, after failing to take advantage of Elijah Dukes' surprise Spring Training dismissal to claim the starting spot in right field, and after hitting .144/.305/.288 in 67 games and 104 spaced out at bats on the year with the Nats, just wasn't going to be the player some had predicted. The top outfielder in the Nats' system heading into the 2010 season according to Baseball America, Maxwell, an Olney, Maryland native drafted out of the University of Maryland with the second pick the relocated organization made after selecting Ryan Zimmerman, hit .287/.390/.439 in 66 games at Triple-A Syracuse in 2010, even managing a respectable .262/.363/.384 slash line against right-handed pitchers with the Chiefs.

In the Majors, however, Maxwell's hit just .188/.276/.366 in 65 games and 112 at bats against RHP over three seasons, and he's K'd 41 times, with 13 walks, 6 doubles and 4 of his 9 career HR's against right-handers. His .215/.361/.393 career mark against LHP isn't that much better, but some would argue that the at bats against left and right-handers have been so random, with Maxwell up and down between Syracuse and D.C. the last two years, that it's been hard to get an impression of what he's capable of doing with an extended stretch of playing time as the Nats did this season with Roger Bernadina. But should the Nationals have kept Maxwell on the Major League roster following a 5 for 50 (.100/.233/.180) 2010 Spring Training in which he'd K'd 21 times? 

Even though he failed to make the Opening Day roster, Maxwell was up in the nation's capital by April 15th, but he hit in just 4 of 23 at bats in April, and was 0 for 10 in May in scattered at bats between trips to Syracuse before he was optioned to Triple-A for a full month on the 28th, staying there til July. Maxwell struck out in 29 of 66 second-half at bats, though he did manage to hit his third grand slam in five career bases-loaded opportunities. At 26, however, Maxwell's place in the Nats' outfield future was undoubtedly in question heading toward the end of the 2010 schedule, as MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote in a mid-September article entitled, "Maxwell to get more starts in place of Morgan", in which he noted that the Nats' Skipper, "[Jim] Riggleman declined to say," if the stretch of games in center he was expected to get with Nyjer Morgan suspended was, "...Maxwell's last chance to show that he could hit on a consistent basis," but did say that, "he is rooting for Maxwell because he is a 'class individual,'" and had decided he was, "...going to put it on [Maxwell] to take this opportunity and run with it."

Maxwell hit in just 4 of his final 25 at bats, suffered an injury to his thumb that he played through, and as MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr reported via Twitter (@bkerr32) earlier this week, suffered an injury to his elbow in the last series of the year in New York which eventually led to Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, which Mr. Kerr later wrote in an article entitled, "Maxwell undergoes Tommy John, eyes February return", could require 4 to 6 months recovery time, half that of a pitcher, but long enough to potentially interfere with the start of Spring Training in a year that the recent NatsTown blog's "30 Players in 30 Days: Justin Maxwell" profile says, "...will answer a lot of questions and determine his future as a Nationals player." Justin Maxwell's out of options, so he'll have to make the roster out of Spring Training or accept an assigment to the minor leagues. Is he out of opportunities? Is Maxwell's 2011 Spring Training his last chance with the Nats?

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