Wednesday, April 2, 2008

County products prepare for pro season

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With numerous veteran outfielders jockeying for spots in spring training, Sherwood High graduate Justin Maxwell knew he would not likely start his third professional baseball season in the Major Leagues, and he was right. After seeing extensive playing time with the parent club, Washington Nationals, this spring, Maxwell, 24, will begin play with Double-A Harrisburg (Pa.).

But that doesn’t mean he won’t finish it in D.C.

That’s what Maxwell, a hard-hitting, slick-fielding outfielder, did last season, joining the Nationals in September, where he showed glimpses of what the Nationals’ front office believe will be a long and productive career.

In 26 at-bats, spanning 15 appearances, Maxwell, who played at the University of Maryland before being taken in the fourth round of the 2005 draft by Washington, batted .269 (7 for 26) with two home runs, five runs batted in and five runs scored. The first base hit of his career was a pinch-hit grand slam against Florida Sept. 11 in what was just his third Major League at-bat. Maxwell later added a solo home run against 300-game winner Tom Glavine, then of the New York Mets.

‘‘This kid does not get intimidated,” said Nationals manager Manny Acta in an article on the Nationals Web site. ‘‘He continues to show the makeup that he has.

‘‘This year is going to be key for him. Depending on what he does in Double-A, he’s going to tell us what we do with him next. He has great makeup and he knows that regardless of guys who are in front of him – if he does what he supposed to do – we’ll find a spot for him down the line.”

Maxwell added: ‘‘It was a great opportunity. The team had a lot of confidence in me and it was definitely a good experience for the future knowing I got my first ABs and played in different ballparks. The team gave me an opportunity to start a lot of games. I was getting real comfortable.”

Maxwell’s late-season call-up was a product of his stellar 2007 performance at Single-A squads Potomac (Va.) and Hagerstown, where the 6-foot-5, 225-pound outfielder produced a combined .281 batting average with 27 home runs, 25 doubles, 83 RBI and 35 stolen bases, and was named the Nationals’ Minor League Player of the Year.

He was twice earned Topps Player of the Month honors during the year, winning the award in May (.320, seven home runs, 18 RBI and five steals in 25 South Atlantic League games) and August (.343, 10 homers, 28 RBI and 10 steals in 27 Carolina League contests).

‘‘Spring’s been going well,” Maxwell said. ‘‘I’m ready to get the season underway. I’m just living the dream as they say.”

Sweeney, Eisenberg derailed for the moment

While Maxwell’s ascension continues seemingly unabated, the professional careers of Magruder High graduate Matt Sweeney and Bullis graduate Mike Eisenberg have been temporarily been put on hold.

Sweeney, an eighth-round pick of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2006, will be sidelined for about three weeks, his father Mark said, because of an injured ankle that he tried to play through during much of the spring before the swelling and soreness forced him to be shut down. Sweeney originally hurt the ankle last year on an errant pitch and re-injured it just prior to the start of spring training, Mark Sweeney said.

‘‘It’s a deep bone contusion and there are some bone chips in there so they decided to put a cast on it,” Mark Sweeney said last week. ‘‘Every time he played, it would swell up. He has that football mentality where he was taught to get back in and play. He just couldn’t do it once he saw the MRI.”

Once he is ready to return to action, Sweeney will play for high Single-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakers after batting .260 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI in 119 games for Single-A Cedar Rapids Kernels in 2007. Sweeney, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound third baseman, was selected to the midseason Midwest League all-star game last season.

Eisenberg was unexpectedly released by the Cleveland Indians early last week, leaving him with the task of finding another suitor to continue his career on the mound.

‘‘My agent and I are looking for a new team and it’s looking pretty promising,” the 6-foot-7, 200-pound Eisenberg said. ‘‘You see who likes you and work from there. My agent, he’ll call all the teams and give his spill on me and see what kind of spaces need to be filled.

‘‘We’ve got a bunch of calls from independent teams but my focus is on Major League organizations. Spring training is coming to a close. We’ll see where all the teams are at when the season starts. I’m pretty confident. It’s only been a year and a half since [he was drafted].”

Eisenberg, who led Marietta College (Ohio) to the Division III national title in 2006, compiled a combined 5-12 mark with a 4.92 earned-run average and 84 strikeouts in 111 2⁄3 innings for the Mahoning Valley (Ohio) Scrappers and the Lake County (Ohio) Captains.

‘‘They said they didn’t have a place for me,” Eisenberg said. ‘‘I had a relatively bad first half but a good second half. It obviously stinks I can’t keep pitching for the Indians. But now I have that `I’ll show you’ factor.”

Roberson moves closerto Detroit

After a solid campaign with high Single-A Lakeland Flying Tigers in 2007, Blake High graduate Ryan Roberson, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound first baseman, believes he will begin the 2008 campaign with the Detroit Tigers’ Double-A affiliate, the Erie (Pa.) SeaWolves.

‘‘It’s been a great experience and I’m learning new things and I’m trying to get better every day,” Roberson said. ‘‘I’ve learned a lot of new things and I’ve tried to make adjustments to keep an edge on the pitchers.”

Despite being injured part of last season, Roberson put up some solid numbers, including 15 home runs and 51 RBI in 100 games for Lakeland. He batted .268 (98 for 366), scored 47 runs and smacked 28 doubles. For his efforts, Roberson was named to the Florida State League’s midseason all-star game.

‘‘I’ve definitely moved up each year and that seems to be the key,” Roberson said.

Notes: Paint Branch graduate Casey Baron compiled a combined 1-1 record and a 2.95 ERA with Rookie-level Helena and Single-A West Virginia Power in his first professional season for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2007. He appeared in 13 games, all in relief. Georgetown Prep graduate Joe Kantakevich produced a 3-4 record with a 2.55 ERA and six saves with 69 strikeouts in 77 2⁄3 innings for the Seattle Mariners’ Single-A squad, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a year ago.