First up was Justin Maxwell. Since I write from a minor league perspective, I wanted to know about how he handled the inevitable frustrations of his slow and steady journey to the big leagues and what advice he might have for players impatient for a faster trajectory.
Justin Maxwell - Fan Fest 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen
Maxwell, who was drafted in 2005, talked to me about expectations and realities starting with 2007 after he had been placed on the 40-man roster. "I came into Spring Training hoping to make the team. I figured if I played well, I'd make the team. I had a pretty good Spring Training that year, [but] came to find out late in Spring Training [that I was going] to AA so to me that was kind of a shock. It was my first introduction to the options process. My advice would be to always play well. Don't get frustrated with the situations that you can't control. Because that's what I did. [In 2009], I was up and down a little bit. 2010 was really frustrating. I was up and down a lot, about five times, and I kind of let that affect my play in the minor league level a little bit, but you just realize that there's a lot of teams watching you at all times so it's always in your favor to really play well. Nobody cares about what you're going through off the field. They want to see you perform on the field so if you can control what you can control at the plate or in the field, just focus on baseball. The rest will take care of itself."
I also asked Maxwell one of my standard minor league player interview questions about which pitcher on the team he would least like to face in the batter's box. He joked about Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris being "no big deal" before he singled out Rhiner Cruz as an exceptional talent. "He's got an amazing arm. If he can get those secondary pitches over for strikes, he's going to be a special player. Not many guys can throw 97 on a consistent basis, day in and day out."
We talked a little about his goals for himself in 2013; playing centerfield and hitting to centerfield in Minute Maid Park; and playing in the American League, but a major focus of the interview was team leadership. Maxwell spoke of Brett Myers and Chris Snyder establishing a veteran presence in 2012, "I liked to pick their brains and listen to them when they would talk about the game because they'd been in the game for so long." He anticipates that Carlos Pena, "one of the nicest people I've come into contact with in baseball" will provide that type of leadership in 2013.
But I wanted to know which younger players on the team were poised to evolve into leadership roles. "Hopefully, it's myself. I've been in situations like this before as one of the older players, and I was one of the older players last year. I'm usually not as vocal as I should be. Hopefully, I can take more of a leadership role this year."
On a team like the Astros, leaders will need to emerge organically from among the younger players. But leadership cannot be forced on the unwilling. Someone must be prepared to take on the mantle and Justin Maxwell appears to be more than willing. As an excellent communicator with a clear vision, I think he will succeed in establishing himself in the clubhouse.