Name: Bruce Maxwell
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 250
How Acquired: Selected in the 2nd round of the 2012 MLB Draft
Bruce Maxwell's development into a big league catcher took time, but the A’s 2012 second-round pick finally had everything come together for him in 2016. Can he sustain that momentum and establish himself as a major league regular in 2017?
http://www.scout.com/mlb/athletics/story/470233-oakland-a-s-top-50-prosp... When the A’s selected Maxwell with the 62nd overall pick in the 2012 draft, the organization knew it was taking on a project. Maxwell put up huge offensive numbers in college, hitting .430 with a 1366 OPS in three seasons for Birmingham-Southern. However, Maxwell spent just one year as a full-time catcher before turning pro, and the A’s knew that he would have, for all intents and purposes, to learn the position from scratch in the minor leagues. The A’s liked Maxwell’s arm strength and intelligence and felt it was worth trying to keep him as a catcher even if it meant stifling his development as a hitter for a time. In the end, this approach appears to have worked out for both Maxwell and the A’s, although there were times during his minor league career where a positive outcome didn’t appear likely.
From a distance, Maxwell’s early progression through the A’s minor league system looked routine. He spent most of his pro debut season with the short-season Vermont Lake Monsters, started his first full pro season with Low-A Beloit and earned a late-season promotion to High-A Stockton that year. In 2015, Maxwell began the year with Stockton and jumped to Double-A Midland after a strong first half. That began a year-and-a-half with the RockHounds that produced some poor offensive numbers.
Bruce Maxwell Stats
Those looking from the outside in might have assumed that Maxwell simply hit the Double-A wall that many prospects are unable to overcome. However, there were mitigating factors involved in his struggles offensively in the Texas League. For one, Maxwell was putting most of his energy towards improving behind the plate. In addition, Maxwell was trying to turn himself into a pull hitter, something he had never been back in college. The combination of those two factors put a significant damper on Maxwell’s production at the plate with Midland.
There were signs at the tail-end of the 2015 season that Maxwell was starting to find his way offensively. A’s starting catcher Stephen Vogt missed the start of spring training recovering from off-season surgery, and that opened the door for Maxwell to earn regular playing time in big league camp. He responded by hitting .261 with an 868 OPS in 17 games with the A’s. He also homered for Team Germany in a WBC qualifier. That strong spring showing coupled with Maxwell’s solid finish in 2015 gave the A’s the confidence to send Maxwell to Triple-A to start the year.
Maxwell, like many of his Nashville teammates, struggled for the first five weeks of the 2016 season. He landed on the disabled list on May 11 and spent eight days on the shelf. When he returned on May 19, Maxwell began a hot streak that would last for two months. From May 19 until July 20, Maxwell raised his slashline from .220/.213/.271 to .321/.393/.539. He homered 10 times during that stretch – including twice as part of a 5-for-5 game in which he drove home six runs and scored four times. On July 23, the A’s recalled Maxwell to the big leagues to make his major-league debut.
For the first month of his big league career, Maxwell was mostly an observer. Going into September, Maxwell had been on the roster for five weeks and had appeared in just 12 games. Not surprisingly, he struggled at the plate, collecting four hits in 31 at-bats. As September rolled around, Maxwell’s playing time increased. He appeared in 19 games that month and his bat picked up considerably. In 52 at-bats, he hit .385/.448/.538 with a homer, a triple and three doubles. He finished his first stint as a big leaguer with a .283/.337/.402 line in 92 at-bats.
A’s Triple-A hitting coach Eric Martins worked with Maxwell in Midland in 2015 and in Nashville last season. He says that Maxwell’s breakout offensively last year was the result of a year-long effort to get him back to using the opposite field again before trying to focus on hitting for power.
“Bruce drives balls to the leftside and left-center as good as anybody that we have. I think there was some confusion and I think he was trying to do too much and trying to get some backspin to the pull-side, which took away from his ability to hit balls to the opposite field. When you lose that and you can’t pull and you can’t go back to your money what you’re used to, there is a little bit of frustration and a little bit of regress,” Martins said. “When I got him last year, I said, ‘let’s get you back to being the hitter that you are used to being and the hitter that we drafted, which is using left field. We’ll get back to having you pull the ball, but first we need to get you going the other way, the way you hit the ball best. That way you’ll have some confidence in the box and you’ll string some hits together and start driving some baseballs.’ There were some flashes of it last year. In a two-three week span, he went up and he pulled some balls and back-spinned some balls. This year was an extension of what we worked on last year.”
Even before he had his breakthrough at the plate, Maxwell had had a breakthrough behind it. Defensively, Maxwell has improved every year behind the plate, getting better with his footwork on balls in the dirt, his pop time on throws to second base and his ability to call a game. While helping to lead one of the best pitching staffs in the Pacific Coast League last season, Maxwell threw out 39% of would-be base-stealers. His transformation from catching novice in 2012 to asset behind the plate in 2016 is a testament to his work ethic.
“Bruce is one of the hardest working guys that we have. He’s the first one to the field, getting his running in,” Martins said.
A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens was one of Maxwell’s strongest advocates over the past four years. Owens believed strongly that Maxwell’s bat would come around once his defensive development was further along.
“You were drafting a hitter at that time that had put up ginormous numbers at Birmingham. Right away, he took a lot of pride in improving his skills defensively. Seeing him at short-season, the bat still played, he controlled the ‘zone, but the catching was going to be a work-in-progress,” Owens said.
“The next year, the glove got a lot better. It wasn’t where it is now, but you could see him make strides. Probably from Double-A on, his throwing arm was above major league average. The exchange was quick. He’s got really big hands and he receives the ball extremely well. He’s a very good target and a natural behind the plate. His transition from a profile standpoint is pretty remarkable.”
Even when he was struggling offensively, Maxwell did a good job of controlling the strike-zone and making regular contact. When he was struggling, much of that contact was beaten into the ground, but last year Maxwell’s flyball and line-drive rates went up and the power numbers leaped up, as well. He is one of the strongest players in the A’s system and has the raw power to hit the ball out to any field. At his peak, Maxwell is a threat to hit 20 or more homers in a season. He doesn’t have huge walk numbers, but he handles the bat very well and has a strong understanding of the strike-zone. His ability to make regular contact and use the whole field give him a chance to hit for average in the big leagues. Like most catchers, Maxwell is a below-average runner.
Maxwell turned 26 in December and he is just entering the prime years of his career. He has a chance to be an asset both at the plate and behind it for a long time. The A’s have two established big league catchers ahead of Maxwell on the depth chart, so he may not make the Opening Day roster. However, it isn’t hard to envision a scenario where Maxwell spends the majority of the season in the big leagues, even if he isn’t there on Opening Day.