Welcome to Graduate School, Bruce Maxwell!
The Arizona Fall League has long been referred to as the finishing, or graduate, school of professional baseball. The top prospects from each of the 30 Major League Baseball organizations are sent to the Valley of the Sun to compete with and against one another. On Tuesday, November 5th, Oakland A's catching prospect Bruce Maxwell was added to the roster of the Mesa Solar Sox.
Maxwell replaces fellow A's catching prospect David Freitas. Freitas was acquired from by the A's from the Washington Nationals last August in exchange for catcher Kurt Suzuki. The University of Hawaii at Manoa product, whose last game with the Mesa Solar Sox before leaving to get married was Monday, was drafted in the 15th round by Washington in the 2010 draft. He leaves the AFL with a .222/.382/.333 line in 27 at-bats.
Arizona Fall League rules require that a player who prematurely has to leave the season, for any reason, be replaced, and Maxwell was the natural selection. The new resident of Arizona had been participating in the Arizona Instructional League, honing his defensive skills under the tutelage of former catcher, and current AZL A's manager Marcus Jensen.
"We felt that the progress that he made over the season in 2013 put him in a position where he could handle the experience of being in an elite league," Oakland A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said.
Maxwell's progression defensively this season was easy to see.
"His defensive skills and his throwing release times, and accuracy are all much improved," Lieppman said.
Maxwell hasn't been a catcher for very long. He was a power-hitting first baseman who converted to catcher later in his career at Division III Birmingham-Southern College. While at BSC, 'Max' became the best player in the history of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC). In 2012, his junior year, Max batted .471 with 15 home runs, 25 doubles, 48 RBI and 59 walks. His team went 38-9 and came within one win from taking the 2012 Division III World Series. Max earned several awards, including SCAC Offensive Player of the Year, American Baseball Coaches Association Rawlings National Player of the Year, as well as Division III National Player of the Year, making him only the second Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference player to be named as such.
After the draft, Max was in Arizona for the first game of the 2012 Arizona Summer League (AZL) at Tempe Diablo Stadium against the Angels. His professional debut behind the plate came during the second game of that season, at home. His offensive domination during the first five games in the "Fire League" left the A's player development staff no choice but to move him to the New York-Penn League, where he joined the Vermont Lake Monsters.
This year, for his first full season of professional ball, Max started the season with Low-A Beloit, and was promoted to High-A Stockton after playing in the Midwest League All-Star Game.
The A's brass were impressed with the hard work Maxwell put into improving during the 2013 season, and their decision to add him to the Arizona Fall League roster was reflective of that.
"We wanted to reward him after having a great first full season by having this experience," Lieppman said.
In late August, when the rosters for the 2013 Arizona Fall League were first announced, the Mesa Solar Sox were the favorites to win the AFL Championship. One reason is that among the top-25 prospects in baseball, as ranked by Baseball America, Mesa has more top prospects than any other team except for Glendale (both have 6). Rather impressive.
Something else that's impressive: of the seven prospects that Oakland sent to Mesa for Opening Day, three were drafted in 2012: #1 pick Addison Russell, 5th-round pick Max Muncy and the best-kept secret of the 2012 draft: 32nd round pick RHP Ryan Dull. Now, with the addition of 2012 2nd-round pick Bruce Maxwell, four of the seven prospects from Oakland have just completed their first full seasons of professional baseball.
More proof there is something special about Oakland's 2012 Draft Class.
The AFL season is winding down, with the championship to be played on Saturday, November 16th at Scottsdale Stadium. There are eight games to be played before that, which means not a lot of playing time for the Solar Sox's newest addition. This doesn't diminish Max's excitement to be included on this roster.
For the past two weeks, he's been working out with the team, developing a rapport with the pitchers, catching bullpen sessions, etc. Max is a natural leader; with a protective nature, and an appreciation for the opportunities with which he is being presented. And he is R-E-A-D-Y TO P-L-A-Y!
Maxwell is expected to make his AFL debut Thursday afternoon at Glendale against the Desert Dogs. The 22-year-old will wear #2 on his Oakland A's uniform jersey.
I will be in Glendale, with a seat in the front row for Max's first day of graduate school.