Late Bloomer or Flash in the Pan, Cameron Maybin lifts Detroit Tigers

Aug 2, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Cameron Maybin (4) slides in safe at third after he hits an RBI triple in the fifth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 2, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Cameron Maybin (4) slides in safe at third after he hits an RBI triple in the fifth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Tigers are much better when their starting centerfielder is on the field. Has Cameron Maybin finally arrived, or is 2016 just a flash in the pan?

Cameron Maybin was the draft prize for the Detroit Tigers in 2005, a reward for the franchise’s 11th straight losing season the year prior. Maybin was a sure-fire, can’t miss prospect that would navigate this team out of the ghastly pattern of 90-100 game losing seasons that plagued them since late in the Sparky Anderson regime.

A Can’t Miss Prospect

Before and after 2005, the Tigers have experienced many more misses than hits in their first round draft picks. The Eric Munsons, Seth Greisingers, Ryan Perrys, and many others greatly outweigh the best picks, which are arguably Justin Verlander (once in a generation), Nick Castellanos (jury may still be out), and Rick Porcello and Andrew Miller (who each found his game long after leaving Detroit).

Despite having a very dubious draft history, most felt the Tigers hit a home run when Maybin fell to them in the 10th spot due to concerns over signability. All he had going for him was:

  • 2004 Connie Mack World Series MVP
  • 2004 Baseball America Youth Player of the Year
  • Most Promising OF of 2005 Draft — Baseball America
  • Third-Best Hitting Prospect  of 2005 Draft — Baseball America

Those credentials made him a hot prospect in the Tigers’ minor league organization. Living up to the potential, he helped West Michigan win the Class-A Midwest League title in 2006 with a batting average of .304, nine homers, and 27 stolen bases, appearing in the All-Star Futures Game.

A Bumpy Major League Career

Moving to High-A in Lakeland in 2007, and then AA-Erie for a handful of games, he got his first taste of MLB in August with the playoff-hopeful Tigers at the young age of 20. Maybin was hitless in his first game, but earned two hits, including his first major league homer (off Roger Clemens), in his second game.

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That would turn out to be the highlight of his first stint in Detroit, as he struggled the rest of the year to adapt to the big leagues. Nonetheless, his prep and minor league resume was enough to swing perhaps the best MLB trade in the last 30 years when the Tigers sent Maybin, Miller, and scores of other prospects to the Florida Marlins for young slugger Miguel Cabrera and former rookie of the year Dontrelle Willis.

Battling inconsistency within the Marlins’ organization through the 2010 season, Maybin was eventually dealt to the San Diego Padres. In his first year there, 2011, his big league skills would show themselves for the first time, winning much praise, mostly for defense.

His final three years with the Padres were a mess of injuries and inconsistency, appearing in just 14 games in 2013. A brief stop in Atlanta in 2015 may have resurrected his career, however.

Career Renaissance? 

Cameron Maybin blossomed under the guidance of Braves’ hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. His .267 average was his best, and a .697 OPS was second-best of his career.

When the Tigers traded to bring Maybin back this offseason, it was probably one of the least notable moves considering Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton were the big-named acquisitions. He figured to be nothing more than a platoon option with Anthony Gose.

The injury bug reared its head again early in Spring Training, forcing Maybin to miss the first six weeks of the season. Once he was inserted into the lineup on May 16, the Tigers kicked it up a notch. Without him, the team had been 16-21, including a 2-11 skid in the days before his arrival.

Assisted by Maybin’s 10-game hitting streak to start his year, including seven of those games with multiple hits, and a pair of three-hit games, the Tigers rolled to eight wins in their next 10 games. From May 16 to August 3, with Maybin appearing in the lineup on most days, the Tigers went 43-28 to get firmly back in the AL playoff chase.

Maybin was placed on the DL after hurting his thumb on August 3, and the Tigers went 5-11 until he came back on August 21. Since that day, they’ve gone 5-2 (heading into Monday night’s game).

He currently has a .328 batting average and .813 OPS, which would shatter his career highs.

What Does the Future Hold?

While he’s always been a very good outfielder and decent stolen base threat, we don’t know if Maybin is simply a late bloomer. Has he finally found his groove at the plate where it all started?

What we do know is, for whatever reason, the Tigers are a much better team when he’s in lineup.  Another thing we know is that Maybin has a history of having a good season and following it up with a bad one.

That’s a factor to keep in mind as the Tigers will assuredly pick up his option for 2017, try to sign him long-term before he becomes a free agent in 2018, or pick up the option and trade him while he’s hot.

Next: Tigers Keys to Making a Playoff Run

If the Tigers find themselves on the outside looking into the playoffs in just over a month, there will be a few what-ifs to look back on. One of the bigger what-ifs would be what if Cameron Maybin had been healthy the entire season?