PEORIA, Ariz. -- Cameron Maybin is fast. Sprinter fast. Long legs. Big strides. Blurry photo if you don't get that shutter speed adjusted before he takes off. Beep beep!
But while the Padres work on building an assembly line of new parts to replace All-Star Adrian Gonzalez's production, Maybin's individual challenge might be even greater.
Under the hot desert sun and running toward the 2011 season, Maybin is looking to catch up to his past.
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"We have prospects in the minor leagues who are even older than he is," San Diego general manager Jed Hoyer says. "You forget how young he is."
Once one of baseball's top prospects, the 23-year-old outfielder is maneuvering to escape from a rundown, trapped between Potential and Baseball Nomad.
"The process has definitely helped me build a lot of character," Maybin says. "I've been able to learn about myself, and see a lot."
Detroit's first-round pick (10th overall) in the 2005 draft as a schoolboy from Asheville, N.C., he was shipped to Florida as part of a high-profile group of prospects in the Miguel Cabrera trade before the 2008 season.
The Marlins pulled the rug out from under him a year later, shipping him to Triple-A New Orleans in May 2009, after he made his first opening day roster but batted just .202 with a .280 on-base percentage over the season's first few weeks.
Then they did it again last June 17 after he batted just .225 with a .290 on-base percentage to start the season.
"To be honest with you, if you look around the league, look at Cincinnati with Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs, or Colorado with Dexter Fowler," Maybin says. "They were able to go through their struggles before they had their success.
Late-round flier ... Tim Stauffer: After years of injury woes kept Stauffer from living up to his potential as the fourth overall pick in the 2003 draft, the Padres finally got frustrated with the right-hander and moved him to the bullpen last year, hoping to get some kind of return for their investment. Turns out they got more than they bargained for. By the beginning of September, he had a 1.72 ERA and was pitching so well that the Padres decided he deserved another shot in the rotation after all. He allowed fewer than two earned runs in four of five starts to end the season and actually finished with a lower ERA as a starter (1.83) than as a reliever (1.87). Stauffer lacks the strikeout potential to be a frontline starter, but his reliever eligibility makes him especially valuable in Head-to-Head leagues. As long as he's pitching, he'll be worth having on a roster.
Sleeper ... Kyle Blanks: Nobody's talking about him, writing about him or thinking about him, which is the perfect recipe for a sleeper. And really, his opportunity is better now than ever. Blanks' natural position is open with Adrian Gonzalez gone. The only thing standing in his way of full-time at-bats is Brad Hawpe ... OK, and that pesky recovery from Tommy John surgery. But the procedure helps explain why Blanks got off to such a slow start last season -- as Mike Aviles in 2009 can attest -- and position players typically recover from it faster than pitchers do. If Blanks gets a chance to claim the first base job at some point this season, don't be surprised if he gets back to performing like he did as a rookie, when he hit 10 homers in 148 at-bats.
Can't-miss prospect ... Casey Kelly: Kelly was the key piece in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, which seems ridiculous if you're just looking at numbers. A 5.31 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP at the Double-A level doesn't scream future ace. But you have to remember Kelly was in the process of converting back to pitcher after beginning his professional career as a shortstop. Considering he was learning on the fly against established prospects at one of the most competitive levels of the minors, his performance wasn't half bad. He showed improved velocity as his body filled out at age 20, making his frontline stuff even more formidable. If he progresses to the point that his numbers match his stuff, he could potentially reach the majors this year.-- Scott White
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"It was a situation where I thought I was going to get the same opportunity in Florida. ... I thought I would get a better opportunity to go through the maturation process."
Short-term, sometimes tools can be a curse. When Maybin broke in with Detroit at 20 in August, 2007, it was as if he had arrived. In his second game, he homered off of Roger Clemens, singled and stole a bag. In Yankee Stadium. New York, if you can make it there ... right?
"Loved it," he says of his two years in the Tigers' organization. "To this day, I'm very thankful for the opportunity they gave me."
Talk to many baseball people, though, and the Tigers did Maybin no favors by rushing him to the majors that summer. He was the youngest player to play in Detroit since Alan Trammell at 19 in 1977.
"It was just wrong," an executive with a rival major league team says.
Now targeted as the next big thing, Maybin was dealt to the Marlins that December and, after spending most of '08 in the minors, the yo-yoing between the majors and the minors in Florida began in earnest in '09.
"I don't think he's going to hit," says one major-league scout who has watched him over the years. "I just don't think he recognizes pitches well enough."
There, in a nutshell, is Maybin's challenge.
He can run. He has tools. Except, there's that career .246 batting average, and .313 on-base percentage.
"I'll tell you right now, for a young guy who has moved around this much, to have that much instability in a tough game is very hard," says Dave Roberts, the former outfielder who now is San Diego's first-base coach. "He's a special player. He's very mature for his age. He can do so many different things on a baseball field. He's willing to put in the work, the hours.
"I think this will prove very beneficial to him, and to us."
What the Padres offer Maybin is a huge expanse of center field land to cover in Petco Park and, theoretically, extended patience. No, this isn't going to work if it's July or August and he's hitting.226. But having watched the way Maybin handled himself after the Marlins dispatched him to the minors in each of the past two years -- he hit, and exhibited a good command of the strike zone and excellent attitude -- and knowing the tools he has, they think he's going to hit a little more. And they're prepared to wait.
"The thing we can give him initially is playing time, and the knowledge that we think he can be a very good player here," manager Bud Black says.
With an increased on-base percentage in San Diego will come a chance to put his speed to use. With a paucity of power and playing in a big park, Black gives his entire lineup a green light. Maybin's smile gets larger with each new sentence on the subject.
Never has he played in a place where the freedom to run not only is offered, but encouraged.
"I told Buddy the other day when he took me out of a game, I'm loving playing Padre baseball," Maybin says. "This is the most fun I've had playing baseball in three years."
Maybe, a guy who can keep pace with the roadrunners zooming across the desert finally is about to catch up to his past.
"I'm telling you, man," Maybin says. "I wake up, I'm eager to get to the ballpark. It's awesome here."