FORT MYERS, Fla. — Hundreds of players put in their time through March, and into early April, on the five baseball fields at the Boston Red Sox player development complex here. They threw, hit, and sweat a lot, trying to impress those making the decisions about their futures.
A player’s standing in the organization will affect those decisions.
Early round draft picks, those expected to become prospects, are certainly given a fair share of attention.
As for a 40th-round draft choice well, maybe “fair” is not the right word to use.
Blake Maxwell, a 40th-round draft pick out of Division III Methodist University in 2005, has been through the gauntlet of emotions – from disappointment last April, to excitement this month over the possibilities.
“Real exciting,” said Maxwell, 26, who will be performing his trademark sprint out of the bullpen again this year at Hadlock Field.
Maxwell pitched all of 2009 in Portland. He spent the 2010 spring training camp with the Sea Dogs – until the last day. Maxwell was demoted to advanced Class A Salem.
“It was tough at the beginning. I didn’t want to be there,” Maxwell said. “But at the same time, I had a uniform on my back. I was still playing professional baseball. After I sat back and thought about it, it beat the alternative of what I could have been doing.
“So anytime they handed me the ball, I went out and tried to get better, had some success, and got out of there.”
With his sidearm delivery and greater command of his fastball and off-speed pitches, Maxwell was 4-1 with a 2.66 ERA in 24 relief appearances for Salem. He was promoted briefly to Triple-A Pawtucket to fill in, and then sent to Portland.
After four relief appearances, he moved into the rotation to replace the injured Casey Kelly. Maxwell went 7-0 with a 2.61 ERA. His 11 total wins led all Red Sox minor league pitchers.
In spring training this year, Maxwell was often called to the major league games, in case an extra pitcher was needed. He got into five games, including a recent exhibition in Houston, and threw five scoreless innings, allowing two hits and one walk, striking out four.
“Maxwell comes in every time and throws strikes,” Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said.
That brought a smile to Maxwell.
“It was great to get that opportunity,” Maxwell said. “Any time you can throw in front of those guys, and especially have success, it’s something they can remember.
“It was great to get that much exposure in front of them.”
Maxwell’s appreciation for his current “favored” standing goes beyond the disappointment of last year’s spring. Maxwell knows his baseball career appeared over after high school.
Maxwell hails from Hope Mills, just outside Fayetteville, N.C. He was not a dominant pitcher at Southview High and received no college offers. Maxwell planned to attend North Carolina State University. If he was to play on a diamond, it would be intramural softball.
Maxwell played American Legion ball that summer. Maxwell shined in one game – and the baseball coach from Methodist University in Fayetteville was watching.
“That summer, I threw 12 innings,” Maxwell said. “And I was terrible, except for the five innings on the day he came. And he asked me go there.”
In college, Maxwell went to a sidearm delivery and became dominant, moving into the closer’s role. The Red Sox drafted him after his junior year and even though there was no big bonus to consider, Maxwell did not hesitate.
“As a Division III guy, it’s hard enough to get drafted,” Maxwell said. “You don’t get drafted twice. So once they took me my junior year, I definitely took the opportunity.”
He worked his way to Portland in 2009, only to get moved down again in 2010.
“I know I’m a late-round guy. I obviously don’t have the same priority as a first-round guy,” Maxwell said. “But they’re giving me the opportunity.”
Now, Maxwell wants to take advantage of that opportunity. This is his free-agent year, meaning the Red Sox will have to decide whether they want to keep him after this season, or allow other teams to sign him
With his Class A days behind him, Maxwell is looking ahead.
“This point last season to this point this season – I’m closer to the big leagues,” Maxwell said. “Just go out and give it everything I got and see what happens.”
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]