Nori Aoki isn’t the only player who jumped this offseason from the Kansas City Royals to the other side of the latest World Series matchup. Justin Maxwell, a 31-year-old outfielder vying for a roster spot in the Giants’ camp, also spent last season in the Kansas City organization and was “definitely pulling for the Royals” during the Fall Classic.
Maxwell played in 20 games for the Royals but was not on their postseason roster, so he was watching from home in Maryland when Alex Gordon’s flare to center field skipped past Gregor Blanco in the ninth inning of Game 7. Gordon, the potential tying run, was held at third base and stranded there as Salvador Perez’s popup ended the Series and kept Maxwell from being fitted for a World Series ring.
“It was disappointing, but I think (Mike Jirschele), the third-base coach, made the right choice,” Maxwell said on Sunday. “All the fans obviously wanted him to send Gordon and tie the game. But he had Salvador coming up ; he’s a really good hitter. You can’t really take that chance. Say he’d gotten thrown out – they probably would’ve ran Jirsch out of town.”
Maxwell carried no resentment, either, when the Giants approached his agent last fall. It was Maxwell’s first foray into free agency, and he said his agent told him the Giants were “one of the first teams, if not the first, to reach out in September. I thought that was pretty neat.” He signed with the Giants in November and is in camp as a nonroster invitee.
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Unlike other such designees, though, Maxwell has an extensive background in pro ball. He was drafted in the fourth round in 2005 by the Washington Nationals and had major-league stints in Washington in 2007, 2009 and 2010, but never stuck. In 2012, he hit 18 homers in 315 at-bats for the Astros, but they traded him the next year to Kansas City. Maxwell made the Royals’ Opening Day roster last season but hit .150 in 20 games and spent most of the season at Triple-A Omaha.
With Hunter Pence out to start the season with a fractured forearm, however, there is an opening in the Giants’ outfield this spring for which Maxwell is right in the middle of the competition. Juan Perez, Gary Brown and Jarrett Parker are all on the 40-man roster, but none has laid claim to the backup outfielder job, and Maxwell, who has hit 34 home runs in 808 career at-bats, offers a powerful right-handed bat that could split time with Gregor Blanco.
After a slow start, Maxwell has picked up his spring average lately, and he went 2 for 4 in the Giants’ loss to the Diamondbacks on Saturday, driving one ball off the top of the wall in right-center field for a triple. After the game, manager Bruce Bochy said Maxwell “looks like he’s getting more comfortable, getting his timing out there. He’s been making better contact the last three, four games.”
Maxwell said he’s comfortable playing all three outfield spots, something the Nationals stressed when he was their prospect, and that he isn’t worrying about where he’ll start the season.
“I’m just trying to get my work in, get my timing, stay sharp, because you never know what can happen,” he said.
He said he was glad to catch up with Aoki in the Giants’ clubhouse this spring. He told Aoki it was exciting to watch the Royals he had befriended and played with last spring reach the World Series. And he was a little surprised when both received a form asking for their ring sizes – for a League Championship Series ring.
“That’s something you never think about,” Maxwell said. “That’ll be a pretty cool thing to have.”
Et cetera – Tim Lincecum (sore neck) will miss his scheduled start on Monday but is expected to be able to make his next turn March 21. Lincecum played catch Sunday and said his neck felt “better.” Bochy said the Giants are still confident Lincecum will be ready to start a game the first week of the season.
▪ Tim Hudson didn’t allow a run in 11/3 innings in the Giants’ 5-0 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he gave up three hits and two walks, and said afterward he needs more work to sharpen his pitches. Hudson hopes to see improvement with bullpen sessions beginning Tuesday.
“Can’t really complain about it,” said Hudson, who’s returning from ankle surgery. “I didn’t really know if I would be out there this early in camp, but I’m out there, getting some good work in.”
▪ Bochy said the Giants are discussing moving Nori Aoki back to left field – instead of right, where Aoki has been filling in for Hunter Pence – but have not decided.
Call the Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.