- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2007

It has been a long three years for Justin Maxwell.

When he began his junior year at Maryland in the fall of 2003, Maxwell was considered one of the top draft prospects in all of college baseball. He led the team in home runs and steals the season before and had a big summer playing in the Cape Cod League. Baseball America named him the 13th-best prospect in the wooden bat league, regardless of age.

Then the rash of inexplicable injuries started. A broken bone in his right arm from a preseason intrasquad game forced him to redshirt in 2004. The Texas Rangers drafted him in the 10th round, and after he went and played in the Cape that summer, he decided not to sign.

His 2005 collegiate season lasted only seven games because of a broken bone in his hand. The Washington Nationals, without a second- or third-round pick because of free agent signings the year before, picked him in the fourth round — the team’s second selection after Ryan Zimmerman.

He eventually signed but too late to play that summer and began his professional career last season. He missed time last year with a broken toe.

“It is like everyone says, ‘Life is a long road,’ ” Maxwell said. “I guess I’ve entered those long few parts of my life. I am just ready to get toward some good years.”

When healthy, Maxwell is the definition of a raw, five-tool talent. He is listed at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, and with his long strides he can cover a lot of ground in the outfield and could become an excellent defensive center fielder.

He can generate plenty of power at the plate, but translating it into games is still an issue. Most of all, he must make more contact to continue his development. Maxwell has seven home runs and 24 stolen bases in 364 professional at-bats, but he also has 101 strikeouts — including 17 in 35 at-bats this season.

“He is improving all the time in the outfield. We really saw some improvement in the spring and last year in Burlington [Vermont], where he finally got over some of his injury issues,” said Bob Boone, the Nationals’ assistant general manager and vice president of player development. “He has a tendency to get long with his swing. He’s hit a couple of home runs, but he also struck out four times [Wednesday]. He shows flashes of the guy we hope he will be, and that is what young people do.”

Boone said Maxwell has been dealing with a minor back injury this spring, but he has played in 10 of Class A Hagerstown’s 13 games. All of his injuries have been random events, and the biggest thing the 23-year-old Maxwell needs is a healthy summer and as many at-bats as possible.

“I am just happy to get started and just try to let everything take care of itself,” Maxwell said. “I really don’t want to put a timetable on much. I just want to go out and play and see what happens. I don’t really try to focus on staying healthy. The injuries were all stuff that was out of my control. I am just looking forward to having a good year and playing every day. That is my main goal is to be out on the field every single day.”

Maxwell was born in Bethesda and is a Sherwood High School graduate. He was drafted by the Orioles in the 43rd round of the 2001 draft after his senior year at Sherwood but decided on college. He was an excellent student and picked Maryland over Harvard.

He passed on the local team before, but now he has another chance to be a hometown kid. Between Hagerstown and, should he merit a promotion, Potomac, his family will have plenty of chances to see him play.

“My goal ever since high school was to play professional baseball,” Maxwell said. “So far everything has worked out, just maybe not timeline wise. My eventual goal is to make the big leagues, and I see that happening here.”