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Bruce Maxwell: A Welcome Addition, But One Day Too Soon?

Oakland Athletics v Arizona Diamondbacks
“Allons, Oakland!” (applaudissement applaudissement, applaudissement applaudissement applaudissement)
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Good Addition From Weisbaden Wiesbaden!

I have been long awaiting the arrival of exciting young A’s prospects who can give us a glimpse of the real future and perhaps reason to think the future will be bright. Ryon Healy has injected life into the A’s, and at least the early returns suggest a "keeper" who could be part of the next contending A’s team. Bruce Maxwell, the pride of Wiesbaden, Germany, is the next to audition for this role, as the catcher is being called up today and reportedly will be in the starting lineup.

Seems just one day early to me. Why? Let’s look at how the weekend is shaping up. You have a Saturday night game followed by a Sunday day game, which means you can expect different starting catchers for the two games.

For the A’s, Kendall Graveman starts tonight with Jesse Hahn on the mound Sunday, called up from AAA where he has recently been throwing to...none other than Bruce Maxwell.

Meanwhile the Rays are throwing lefty Drew Smyly tonight (though as NateHST notes another LHP, Blake Snell, goes Sunday). Maxwell, a LH batter, indeed has significant platoon splits. This year he is batting a gaudy .327/.395/.590 against RHPs and .297/.381/.324 against LHPs. Actually that batting average and on base percentage are darn solid, but check out the difference in slugging. Seems like you would want to offer Maxwell the best chance to start strong and bat him against a RH starting pitcher in his debut.

You would think Maxwell should debut Sunday with either Matt McBride getting the start this evening (and then maybe being sent down to AAA) or Stephen Vogt getting the nod to continue nurturing Graveman through this "breakout" phase of Kendall’s career.

Regardless, I will be jazzed to see Maxwell behind the dish and at the plate. With Healy, Semien, Valencia, Davis, and Smolinski all offering RH prowess the A’s are in need of some strong LH batting players and Maxwell could be a valuable addition. Though his career stalled early, he is still just 25 with the pedigree of a 2nd round draft pick. May his silver hammer bring him silver slugger awards.

UPDATE, 11:55AM: Jane Lee tweets that Stephen Vogt has been placed on family medical leave, which may explain exactly why Maxwell is being called up today instead of Sunday or Monday. Our thoughts and best wishes are with Vogt and his family.

Jake From A’s Farm

Speaking of Jake Smolinski, I continue to be intrigued and impressed by his play in CF. It’s hard for the Eyeball Scout to draw firm conclusions because Smolinski still has rarely been tested with the types of plays that tend to separate below average, average, and above average defenders at that position.

What I can say is that Smolinski has, so far, handled every "slightly difficult" chance seamlessly, such as the drive to right-center last night that he ran down thanks to a good read and direct route. It is certainly refreshing to see his arm keep runners honest, considering how the arms of Davis, Crisp, and Burns make liars, cheaters, and embezzlers out of opposing base runners.

I can’t really form a solid opinion until I see a few flares off the end of the bat and see if Smolinski starts back, freezes, or gets a good first step in; until I see him go back on a line drive straight over his head; until I see him try to outrun a ball in the opposite alley from the one in which he was shaded.

That being said, here’s what I have observed so far: Smolinski looks a lot like a Mark Kotsay disciple, something I hoped Billy Burns might become given that he has access to, well, Mark Kotsay. Burns has twice the foot speed of Smolinski, but so far has just not been able to bring any of Kotsay’s skills into the fold. Smolinski, however, has.

What I have noted is that Smolinski seems to be very comfortable with the read off the bat you get from CF — it’s a different view than you get from the corners and some outfielders take to it while others don’t. He also appears to know, be it instinctively or through fundamentals, what angle to turn his body in order to take the most direct route to the ball while maintaining a good view of the ball in flight. This was a Kotsay special that enabled Kotsay to close in on fly balls as if he had more speed than he actually had.

In essence, at his best Kotsay was a CFer who had good-but-not-great speed and who used great reads of the ball off the bat and perfect routes to defend as if he were faster than he actually was. Smolinski, so far, looks like a CFer who has average-at-best speed but who shares some of Kotsay’s abilities to offset a lack of speed through reads, jumps, routes, and fundamentals.

Ultimately I don’t view either Ryon Healy or Smolinski as being more than "offense first, average at their position" players — Marcus Semien would join them with this description — but if Smolinski can be average defensively in CF then the A’s have themselves a find. And so far so good, I would say.

Discuss...Until the A’s take on the Rays tonight at 6:05pm with feuerwerk to follow...