Cubs Add Depth to Their Outfield with Cameron Maybin

A day after adding José Martínez, the Cubs continued to deepen their roster by adding Cameron Maybin in a last-minute trade with the Tigers. Heading to Detroit is shortstop Zack Short, the Cubs’ 20th-ranked prospect.

Maybin signed a one-year pact with the Tigers this past offseason after a late-career resurgence with the Yankees in 2019. It was his third stint with the Tigers after debuting with them way back in 2007 and a one-year stop in 2016. This is now the third time they’ve traded him away.

The biggest adjustment Maybin made last year was a swing change to elevate the ball more often without worrying about swinging and missing. Considered a speedy slap hitter for most of his career, he posted a career-high .209 ISO in 269 plate appearances in the Bronx, with an overall offensive contribution 27% higher than league average. His long journey toward these improvements was chronicled by The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler a year ago:

“I wanna play for as long as I can, so I felt like it was necessary for me to take a leap of faith and try something new,” Maybin said. “I’m having fun trying it. I love taking big swings now.”

It’s those “big boy” swings supported by Thames, molded by Wallenbrock and Antariksa, and encouraged by Haniger and Martinez that have turned Maybin from a fleet-footed clubhouse favorite to an unexpectedly productive part of the outfield depth on a first-place team. It took more than a decade in the league to find this version of himself as a hitter, but the evolution was fruitful.

Maybin set plenty of career bests in his half-season with the Yankees. His groundball rate dropped to 41.2% and his hard-hit rate was higher than ever. With all that hard contact in the air came a career-high strikeout rate, but the additional damage he was able to do on contact made the trade-off worth it.

Maybin hasn’t enjoyed the same success this year, but he’s been limited to just 45 plate appearances after missing time with a quad injury earlier in the season. In his limited time with the Tigers, Maybin’s groundball rate spiked back up to 60.7%, but his hard-hit and strikeout rates were higher than ever. With just 28 batted balls this season, though, that groundball rate could drop quickly with a handful of batted balls in the air. Even more encouraging is Maybin’s barrel rate, which is up to 14.3% in this limited sample.

With Steven Souza Jr. sidelined due to a strained hamstring and Kris Bryant on the mend from a finger injury, Maybin provides some much-needed depth to the Cubs bench. He’ll likely take the place of Albert Almora Jr., who has really struggled since a promising debut back in 2016. The right-handed-hitting Maybin could make a good platoon partner with the left-handed Jason Heyward (.238 wOBA vs LHP this year).

In Zack Short, the Tigers get a major-league ready utility infielder. He’s shown excellent plate discipline skills throughout his time in the Cubs organization, though his strikeout rates have ballooned as he reached the higher minor league levels. Here’s Eric Longenhagen’s report from this year’s Cubs prospect list:

Short struck out at an alarming rate last year, much more than he ever has before (32% last year, 21% career). Some of that may have been due to a smaller sample of at-bats, as he missed much of 2019 with a hand injury. He has good ball/strike recognition, hits the ball in the air consistently, and is a capable defender all over the infield, including at short. He’s now on the Cubs 40-man and I think he’s a big league ready utility man.

The Tigers already have a number of these types of utility infielders on their major league roster in Willi Castro and Harold Castro. Short will probably get an opportunity to differentiate himself from the two Castros this year with the deep 28-man roster.

Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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