Since there have been very few real position battles this spring, we have spent a fair amount of time discussing the possible outcomes for the Yankees’ 25th roster spot. The consensus opinion is that the Yankees will go for a left-handed reliever, likely one of Cesar Cabral or Clay Rapada, and both of these guys have done nothing to disqualify themselves from earning a roster spot. However, circumstances may be starting to align for outfielder Justin Maxwell to seize the last roster spot.
Maxwell, a 28 year-old career minor leaguer, is nobody’s idea of a top prospect at this stage in his career. He has flashed great tools throughout his career, but has been unable to translate the tools into consistent production. Maxwell has shown the ability to hit for power, slugging as many as 27 home runs in a minor league season, as well as some decent plate discipline. He has also demonstrated solid defensive ability at all 3 outfield positions. However, the inability to make consistent contact has handicapped Maxwell throughout his minor league career, leading to sky-high strikeout rates and low batting averages.
Maxwell has put together a strong performance thus far in spring training, posting a .435/.519/.652 line, including 5 doubles in 23 at-bats. He has outperformed the other competition for the extra outfield position, including Chris Dickerson and Dewayne Wise (not exactly formidable foes, albeit). He has played mostly in centerfield this spring, but his versatility should allow him to be successful at the corners as necessary. He also has enough pop to be a threat in late innings after coming in as a defensive replacement.
There are two circumstances that could help Maxwell sneak onto the roster: Nick Swisher’s health, and Raul Ibanez’s poor performance. Swisher has battled groin injuries all spring, and while he should be on track to start on opening day, it is not out of the question that a aggravation of the injury could lead him to wind up on the DL. If Swisher begins the season banged up or on the DL, Maxwell would be a natural replacement, and could split reps in right field with Andruw Jones.
Raul Ibanez’s well-documented struggles this spring could see the Yankees look for another option for the platoon DH/emergency outfielder role. While Maxwell, as a right-handed hitter, would not be an ideal platoon candidate, he may be enough of an upgrade over Andruw Jones against righties or Brett Gardner against lefties to be useful to the team in some capacity. I don’t see the Yankees cutting bait on Ibanez so quickly, but if it turns out that he has been battling an injury or there is some physical reason for his struggles, Maxwell could get a shot.
The Maxwell decision gets a little interesting because he is out of options, and would have the option to become a free agent if the Yankees don’t add him to the 25-man roster. Maxwell’s strong spring might draw interest from teams around the league who would be looking for an extra outfielder, and I would have to imagine that Maxwell would elect to pursue free agency rather than go back to AAA for the Yankees. I’m not sure it is worth upsetting previous roster plans to keep Maxwell in the fold, but if circumstances change for Swisher and/or Ibanez, Maxwell could be a useful asset.
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