Athletics

A's C Maxwell forms bond coaching at Phoenix-area high school

A's C Maxwell forms bond coaching at Phoenix-area high school

MESA, Ariz. — Mountain Pointe High School baseball coach Matt Denny opened his email last fall and read a note from someone claiming to be a major leaguer, who was wondering if he needed a hand on his coaching staff.

Denny thought it was a hoax.

“You get a lot of guys who say things that aren’t true,” he said.

The curious individual happened to be A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell, and he was sincere about his offer. Before long, Maxwell was driving out to the Phoenix high school, attending Mountain Pointe’s fall workouts and putting the team’s catchers through the same drills that A’s catchers do.

Maxwell, who splits his offseason between Phoenix and Harvest, Alabama, fit seamlessly as a volunteer coach into what he calls “the Mountain Pointe family.” His players have his phone number and he encourages them to keep in touch.

Even after Oakland’s spring training workouts began, Maxwell would leave Hohokam Stadium after his work day ended, make a quick trip home to let his dog out, and then head over to Mountain Pointe’s practice. It’s getting tougher for him to make practices now that the A’s have started playing exhibitions, but Maxwell keeps tabs on how the team is doing.

“I try to do something along these lines every offseason, because I love to coach and I love to teach, whether it be lessons or at a high school,” said Maxwell, who’s helped coach Arizona-based travel ball teams in the past.

Maxwell said he reached out to coaches of three different schools last fall. Denny, who won two state titles at nearby Greenway High and is in his first season at Mountain Pointe, got back to him within an hour. Still, Denny had his reservations upon getting the e-mail.

The 25-year-old Maxwell played in 33 games for the A’s as a midseason call-up last year, and he’s viewed as a promising up-and-coming catcher. But he’s hardly a household name, and Denny admitted his initial reaction was part excitement, part skepticism.

So he did a Google search.

“I looked him up and saw that he had some at-bats in the big leagues and that he was a real person,” the coach said.

Now, Mountain Pointe’s catchers are the beneficiaries of some top-notch instruction. In turn, Maxwell gets something out of the exchange too.

“I run these kids through the routine that we do every day,” he said. “The more and more you teach, the more and more you learn. I get to see what they’re doing wrong, and then seeing what they’re doing wrong and explaining it to them, I can see it and understand if I’m doing it. Because I can’t see myself.”

That perspective comes in handy for a player who didn’t convert from corner infielder to catcher until after his freshman season at Birmingham Southern College. Marcus Jensen, the A’s catching instructor, concurred that Maxwell can pick up things while coaching and observing younger players.

“When you’re able to teach something, it helps you to fully understand your particular craft, whatever it is you’re teaching,” Jensen said.

As Denny points out, Maxwell’s big league status gives him instant credibility with players. He admires the fact that Maxwell cares enough to donate his time.

“He’s a volunteer. He’s not doing it for the money, and that shows awesome character,” Denny said. “Somewhere along the line, he had a coach that worked with him. It’s a pay-it-forward thing.”

The A’s view Maxwell as part of their future plans, and he’s fighting this spring for a spot on the Opening Day roster. Because of that, his time helping Mountain Pointe will be limited for the rest of this season. But the high school squad is never far from his thoughts, and he talks as if he’d like to continue working with the program beyond this season.

“I’ll still be checking in with my kids,” Maxwell said. “They all have my social media and stuff. … I love it, man.”

 

Why Manny Machado to A's not worth it with giant contract and headache

Why Manny Machado to A's not worth it with giant contract and headache

Let's be clear right from the start: The A's aren't signing Manny Machado. His projected $300 million-plus contract doesn't quite fit into Oakland's budget.

The question we want to examine is whether he'd really even improve the team.

There's no denying Machado's talent. The free agent third baseman/shortstop is one of the best all-around players in baseball. He already has been in four All-Star Games at the young age of 25, with a career slash line of .282/.335/.487. Last season, he tallied 37 home runs and 107 RBI with a .905 OPS.

But let's not forget, the A's have a pretty good third baseman and shortstop of their own. Matt Chapman and Marcus Semien form arguably the best defensive duo of any left side of the infield, and they can both swing the bat pretty well, too.

Chapman, 25, slashed .278/.356/.508 in his first full season, belting 24 home runs, 42 doubles and 68 RBI. Semien, 28, added 15 homers and 70 RBI after blasting a career-high 27 round-trippers two years ago.

Most importantly, the A's have a unique chemistry that was vital to their success last season. Machado is far from the most well-liked guy in the league, and adding him could hurt the clubhouse atmosphere.

Part of what makes the A's so special is that no one has an ego. Even veteran stars such as Khris Davis and Jed Lowrie carry a team-first mentality and don't care about the spotlight.

Machado, on the other hand, has openly admitted to not hustling in playoff games, and he has pulled some questionable -- if not dirty -- maneuvers on the base path. He also doesn't have the greatest history with the A's.

To reiterate, Machado unquestionably is a special talent. There's a reason he'll likely get more than $300 million in free agency. But baseball is a funny game. Individual numbers don't always translate to team success.

Oakland has something special in its clubhouse, and there is no reason to mess with that. Chapman and Semien have earned the right to hold down their side of the infield for years to come.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Wednesday is dedicated to free agent infielder Manny Machado.
Why Machado doesn't fit with Giants
Would Machado fit with rebuilding White Sox? 
Machado's talent worth betting on for Phillies
Yankees signing Machado would put pressure on Red Sox

Many reasons why Bob Melvin was right choice for AL Manager of the Year

Many reasons why Bob Melvin was right choice for AL Manager of the Year

Bob Melvin is Manager of the Year in the American League. Not only recognized by The Sporting News a few weeks back, but now, on the grandest stage by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Melvin clearly deserves this honor on his own merits, but it’s even more impressive that he won what could have been a popularity contest. Considering Alex Cora and the season had by his Boston Red Sox. Or Aaron Boone with the Yankees, who wasn’t even named as a finalist. Both of those first-year skippers run huge payroll teams in huge media markets, and obviously lived up to some expectations.

But for Melvin, he took an emerging 2017 A’s group and raised the bar by 22 wins. That was despite enduring a completely broken-down starting rotation and a franchise that began Opening Day with the lowest payroll in all of baseball.

For reference: No team in the last 30 years of Major League Baseball has started the first game with the lowest payroll and gone on to the playoffs. Until the A's did in 2018.

Knowing some of the inner workings of this team without giving too much away, I can tell you that Melvin has a tremendous grasp on his club, both when they are surging and when they are struggling.

After Melvin won this award, analysts will try to point to tangible things such as in-game decision-making when it comes to quantifying how he managed his group so well. And yes, the A's did lead all of baseball in one-run wins.  

But for me, it’s all that you can’t see that makes Melvin the runaway winner for Manager of the Year.

For example, he facilitated the transition of one-time left fielder Khris Davis into an everyday designated hitter, and saw him hit more homers than ever.

Melvin guided Jed Lowrie through a career season where trade talks and the potential of a young prospect taking over at any minute could not have been higher.

Melvin established a back-end of the bullpen that fashioned Lou Trevino and Blake Trienen into one of the best setup/closer tandems in the game.

And last but not least, Melvin helped evolve players like Matt Olson and Matt Chapman during their first full MLB seasons into bonafide leaders on and off the field.

In short, the A’s are lucky to have Bob Melvin in the dugout. And even luckier that his recent contract extension will keep the Bay Area native at the helm for multiple years past the 2019 season.