This is something that I was planning on keeping an eye on this year. People kept touting the Cameron Maybin trade as a possible steal for the Padres over the winter because of his youth, tools and defensive skills, but I've long been skeptical regarding Maybin's future prospects. But I kept seeing a somewhat flawed swing, and matching results that continually limited his potential in my eyes.
Now, it's not like I don't believe that Maybin can stick in the majors. He's an above-average defender in center field, so as long as his wOBA is in the .320 range he can be a good everyday player. And even if he can't, there are fifth outfielders that provide less defensive value than Maybin can. But players often peak early defensively, and even though Maybin's only 24 you still have to wonder when his elite athleticism is going to begin to wane. If the bat doesn't show some signs of life soon, it's hard to project him as a future regular.
My concerns have primarily based in Maybin's swing, and the results that its been producing. People always got so excited about Maybin because of the athleticism, and his potential as a five-tool outfielder. But I kept watching his swing, and more specifically, the lack of loft in it, and I never understood why people thought that this guy would hit for power. Sure, there's clearly some raw power in his frame and he produces some impressive bat speed. But he gets on top of the ball far too much to really put up big power numbers, and that's been reflected by his batted ball profile in the majors: his ground ball rate has generally been in the 53-55% range; very few successful power hitters sustain a ground ball rate at such a high level.
Maybe if Maybin was a high-contact hitter, this wouldn't be as much of an issue. He'd be able to take advantage of all of the non-fly balls and post a high BABIP, boosting his batting average in favor of his isolated power. But Maybin has always had legitimate issues with strikeouts; his career K rate currently sits at 31.6%. So now you have a very toolsy hitter with a bunch of holes in his swing and a tendency to beat the ball into the ground that's moving into a pitcher's park... and people are expected a breakout?
But that's the thing. Something appears to have changed with Maybin. I haven't seen the Padres play yet this year, so I can't claim to see any changes in his swing or approach, but that's precisely why I'm here. After hitting 53% ground balls and 33% fly balls last season, he's hit 46% ground balls and 42% fly balls this year. His HR/FB has rose some, but combined with the increase in fly balls he's already got two doubles, one triple and two homers on the year. And frankly, this could be the kind of adjustment that turns Maybin into a quality center fielder. The glove is already there. The tools for hitting are already there. Even if the strikeouts are still there, more power would probably be enough to turn him into a solid offensive center fielder.
So, people, does Cameron Maybin's swing look different this year?