With Nyjer Morgan starting an eight-game suspension today, Justin Maxwell should suddenly get the abundance of at-bats that, with the exception of September, has mostly been denied him during his Nationals career.
Maxwell, for a variety of reasons, has never gotten a chance to be on the field every day, work through slumps and try to make adjustments.
Some of those reasons are self-inflicted - like when he hit .100 this spring with the Nationals' right field job there for the taking. But Maxwell, despite his impressive physical skills, has watched plenty of outfielders go past him. Now, he could be getting his final real shot to convince the Nationals he has a future with them.
Maxwell is out of options after this season, meaning he'd either need to make the team out of spring training next year or accept a minor league assignment if he doesn't. It seems possible the University of Maryland product would stay with the Nationals; he and his family are able to live in the area year-round, and he's close to where he grew up. The chance to play in the majors every day, though, hasn't been granted to him, and may not be with Washington.
The 26-year-old had an impressive September last year, posting an .894 OPS in 10 games and punctuating it with a walk-off grand slam in the Nationals' final home game. He's got a career OBP of .316 despite a .206 average, owing to his 13.3 percent walk rate. He can steal bases and play all three outfield positions. He's intelligent, coachable and amiable.
By all accounts, the 6-foot-5 outfielder is the ideal package for the kind of outfielder the Nationals would love to have. So why hasn't it worked out?
Part of the problem has been Maxwell's inability to seize upon opportunities when they were there. He was limited by injuries to 43 minor league games in 2008 and posted underwhelming power numbers at Triple-A Syracuse in 2009.
And this spring, after the Nationals cut Elijah Dukes and gave Maxwell every opportunity to win at least a piece of the right-field job, he slumped and got optioned to Syracuse as Bernadina - another mid-20s prospect who had underperformed and struggled to stay healthy - seized the spot.
It's difficult to argue that in a raw sense, Bernadina would be better-suited to play right field for the Nationals than Maxwell would. But he's produced when asked, and Maxwell has been on a seemingly endless shuttle between Syracuse and Washington, getting called up to fill in for a few days at a time and flailing in limited at-bats.
He'll have a chunk of time this week, though, to change another disappointing season and possibly alter the Nationals' calculations about him. Another down-and-out week, though, and this year's September stint with the Nationals could be Maxwell's last.