March 19, 2015, was a rare spring-training day off for the San Diego Padres in Peoria, Ariz. Cameron Maybin, competing to be their center fielder, took the opportunity to watch his friend, Jace Peterson, play in an Atlanta Braves spring game across the country.
As he watched, the broadcast brought on Kevin Seitzer, the Braves' hitting coach, for an in-game interview. Seitzer's description of his approach to hitting caught Maybin's attention: everything up the middle, as much as possible.
It was a vulnerable point in the 27-year-old's career. A longtime top prospect signed to a $25-million contract extension after a breakout 2011, Maybin had disappointed for three consecutive seasons in San Diego. At home that afternoon, he pulled out his trusty notebook, penned down Seitzer's words, and tried them out in the batting cage the next morning.
Two weeks later, on the eve of the regular season, the Padres dumped Maybin's contract on Atlanta in a trade for closer Craig Kimbrel. Maybin arrived at Turner Field for opening day and told Seitzer he had just seen him on TV.
"It was weird," Maybin said. "It was almost creepy."
Atlanta acquired the right-handed-hitting Maybin to platoon with incumbent center fielder Eric Young Jr., who's now in Angels camp as a nonroster invitee. As Seitzer worked with him, he found a player trying to do more than his body allowed, but also one willing to heed his recommendations.
"He had failed enough in his career that he knew the things that he had tried didn't work, and he was willing to try this," Seitzer said by phone from Florida, where he remains the Braves' hitting coach. "We talked, and he said let's fix it. The biggest thing with him was really getting him to lock in on a plan and approach."
At times, that pursuit still evades him.
Now 29, the Angels everyday left fielder, and in the last season of his extension, Maybin was hitless through three weeks of spring training. Then, in Saturday's third inning at Tempe Diablo Stadium, he snapped the 0-for-20 streak with a single to left field. In the fifth, he doubled to right-center field, a direction that attracted Manager Mike Scioscia's attention because it matched where he found success in Atlanta.
"As you see right now, spring training is a great time for me to get that stuff locked back in," Maybin said before the game. "There's no results, but I'm still seeing six or seven pitches an at-bat this spring with his approach. It puts you into position to be on base and see pitches."
Maybin likes to think of the field as a pie chart, and his desired slice starting a few feet left of second base and ending where the second baseman stands.
"That's really where I try to focus," he said. "A simple line drive up the middle will cure every situation."
Now, Maybin believes he's a better hitter when he's not trying to hit home runs. He hit only four for Detroit last season, the best year of his career.
"For me, he's a gap-to-gap guy, and he's got good power, but he's not a power hitter," Seitzer said. "When Cam drives one out of the ballpark, it's because he caught a mistake and caught it right. He's not a [Mike] Trout or a [Albert] Pujols, where he can drop a bomb."
Right-handed reliever Kirby Yates, competing for a bullpen spot, has developed a splitter to accompany his standard slider-and-fastball combination. … Utilityman Dustin Ackley, who has not yet played the field this spring because of shoulder surgery in June, said he has several opt-out opportunities in the minor league contract he signed with the Angels, beginning at month's end. He pinch-ran and batted as a designated hitter Saturday. … Right-hander Matt Shoemaker will start Sunday in the Angels' major league game, the lone rotation member to not face minor leaguers this turn. Right-hander Garrett Richards will face minor leaguers Tuesday, while the major league team travels to face Cincinnati in Goodyear, Ariz. In between, left-hander Tyler Skaggs is scheduled to throw three innings in a minor league game Sunday night at Tempe Diablo Stadium.