Playing in your first full professional season is difficult for any minor league catcher. It often involves being tasked with calling a game for the first time, handling a pitching staff and playing defense, all while holding your own with the bat. But it was an even bigger challenge for Bruce Maxwell, who was a relative newcomer to the position after moving from first base as a college sophomore.
Through a month and a half in the Midwest League, Oakland's second-round pick in the 2012 draft has been a consistent performer near the top of the Snappers lineup and is getting a majority of the starts at catcher. Maxwell has posted a slash line of .290/.358/.397 through 37 games. Defensively, he has committed just two errors behind the dish and has a .990 fielding percentage.
"This season is going really well," said Maxwell, a junior draftee out of Birmingham Southern College. "A lot of adjustments have been made in the off-season and my catching has come a long way. I'm more comfortable back there. My hitting is a day-to-day thing. We all have to make adjustments at the plate. I'm moving forward.
"Behind the plate, I've been doing what [A's minor league catching coordinator] Marcus [Jensen] and the A's have been training me to do. I've had more time and repetition. Offensively, I've been letting my top hand work a little more. My bottom hand usually gives me problems, because it's my stronger of the two. It's just a little top-hand repetition and seeing the ball out front more."
While many areas of his game are rounding into form, the biggest area of focus for Oakland's front office has been improving Maxwell's handling of the opposition's running game. He has thrown out just 14 percent (6-of-42) base stealers.
"Catcher is a new position for him, so we're continuously working on his technique there, especially with the catch-and-throw portion of it," Beloit manager Ryan Christensen said. "He's a very strong kid with a lot of potential to be a good hitter. If the catching comes around with the catch-and-throw aspect, he's going to be on his way to a successful career."
After signing with the A's last summer, Maxwell got his feet wet in the Arizona Rookie League. In six games, he had 11 hits (four doubles) and five walks in 21 at-bats.
The A's sent Maxwell to the New York-Penn League, where he spent the rest of the season with Vermont. The road was a little rougher with the Lake Monsters, as Maxwell posted a .254/.329/.316 line in 228 at-bats. He had only 14 extra-base hits with Vermont.
"The atmosphere was a little different," Maxwell said. "I was shipped out a week after the draft was over. I got the contract signed in about three or four days.
"Stepping up into rookie ball, I was tardy on the fastball but still had my approach to the opposite field that worked out best for me. I got to Vermont and started scuffling a little bit. I saw a little more velocity and quality, so I struggled. But I still managed to finish the season strong."
Maxwell came out of college known for his prolific power, yet patient approach at the plate. He led the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference with a .471 average. Maxwell hit 15 homers, posted a .619 on-base percentage and slugged .928.
The power numbers have yet to show up during his pro career. Maxwell went 67 games and 248 at-bats without a homer last summer and has just one thus far at Beloit. He has shown gap power, though, with 11 of his 38 hits going for doubles. A number of different variables have factored into that, says Maxwell.
"[The power has never] really never faded away," he said. "I just had to catch up to the fastball last year in short-season. That was something I lacked in college. It's a lack of repetition. This year it's a lot better and I'm seeing it well. I see it more on a daily basis, so it's easier to make the adjustment.
"The power is always there and is always going to be there. I stick to my approach, which is center to left-center approach. I have plenty of power going that way and plenty to the pull side. It's all about timing and where I am in the contact point."
Maxwell is driven by his desire to prove the naysayers wrong. He had been told to expect his name to be called between the fourth and seventh round during last season's draft, yet he was picked in the second. Now he would like to prove he belongs.
"Nobody ever gave me any credit all season and I didn't receive any credit from any publications or websites," he said. "It's kind of funny, when my name came up on the draft, none of the announcers really had anything to say about me because nobody expected me to be there in that situation."