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Newcomer Cameron Maybin is turning into a star for the Angels

Fourteen years ago, Cameron Maybin was a hotshot high school sophomore widely projected to become a top Major League Baseball draft pick and, in time, a top center fielder.

USA Today published a feature on Maybin and former USC guard O.J. Mayo as up-and-coming stars.

The first part of that prognostication about Maybin quickly came true: The Detroit Tigers selected him with the 10th pick in 2005 and he ascended to the majors two years later. The second did not.

But now, at 30, he's closer than ever to fulfilling it.

In the final season of a contract extension he signed three teams ago, Maybin has established himself as the Angels’ leadoff hitter, a more patient plate presence than ever before.

He believes the improvements date to 2015 when he was with the Atlanta Braves, who acquired him on the eve of the season to be Eric Young Jr.’s platoon partner. Maybin, facing less pressure, followed the advice of Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer and ceased trying to be the power threat he had been projected to be. Instead, he focused on spraying liners to the middle of the field.

“I think that’s how it started,” said Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, a teammate then and now. “He looked good at the plate and never looked back, really. He’s been a different hitter ever since that year.”

Simmons compared Maybin’s dramatic late-career improvement with that of Milwaukee Brewers slugger Eric Thames, who returned from the relative obscurity of playing pro ball in South Korea to become one of the major leagues’ best hitters.

“It doesn’t happen often where it doesn’t happen early, but I still believe it happens," Simmons said. "I still believe stuff clicks for people. It’s how you approach your at-bats, what people tell you you’re capable of, what you’re supposed to do. Maybe eventually you get to the point where you do something a little different, because you’re tired of the other way that didn’t work for a couple years.”

Maybin had some success early in his career, but it was always abbreviated, layered around injuries. He also served a 25-game suspension for testing positive for amphetamines.

Over the first nine seasons of his major league career, Maybin logged a below-average .313 on-base percentage. Everything about his offensive game, other than baserunning, was below average.

Over the last two seasons, still somewhat marred by injuries, Maybin has logged a .380 on-base percentage, tied for 16th-best among the 189 major leaguers who have batted 600 or more times in that span. He has walked in 14% of his plate appearances this season, which puts him in similar territory on league leaderboards.

He is batting .270 with a .408 slugging percentage and a league-leading 21 stolen bases. Everything about his offensive game is above average.

“That separation between his average and on-base [percentage] is an all-time high for Cam,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Hopefully it’s just another step he’s taking to what you would like to see in a player. It’s not like he’s consciously trying to take walks. He settled into a nice rhythm last year and he’s gotten back to that after the first month of the season, when he struggled.

“I think he’s taking the walks when they’re there and when there’s a pitch he can hit hard, he’s putting a good swing on it.”

The walks have made Maybin the club’s most intriguing trade piece. Three talent evaluators said that within the last week that they expect Maybin to attract the most interest among players the Angels could trade if they move further out of wild-card contention in the coming weeks.

Short hop

The date of right-hander Doug Fister’s next start has not been determined, general manager Billy Eppler said. Fister, 33, is with triple-A Salt Lake. He can opt out of his contract with the Angels on Wednesday if he has not been promoted to the big leagues. The Angels passed him over for a start this week in favor of Parker Bridwell.

pedro.moura@latimes.com

Twitter: @pedromoura

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