Through six games, Justin Maxwell held up his end of the deal.

The Astros’ pitch: Center field is Maxwell’s position to lose. Play strong and be consistent, live up to his premium athletic potential, and Maxwell could command Tal’s Hill and roam throughout American League ballparks throughout 2013.

Heading into the Astros’ AL West road debut Monday against the Mariners, Maxwell hadn’t just delivered – he’d been one of the struggling team’s few productive players during a frustrating 1-5 start.

Opening night against the Rangers in Houston, Maxwell smacked two triples. Several highlight-worthy running center-field catches followed, clear reminders a healthy, primed Maxwell can still be an elite everyday defensive outfielder. Add in a hot bat – Maxwell entered Monday leading the Astros in batting average (.381), total bases (13), slugging percentage (.619) and OPS (1.054) – and the 6-foot-5, 220-pound player has provided an early glimpse of producing a breakout year. At the age of 29.

“He’s one of those guys we’d call a late-bloomer,” Astros first-base coach Dave Clark said. “He’s getting a chance to play everyday and show what everybody thought he could do when he got drafted. … He’s a gamer. He comes to play everyday. He’s a student of the game and you can’t help but love the kid.”


To Astros No. 1 starter Bud Norris, Maxwell’s a center-field vacuum, tracking down long, soaring fly balls that land last-second near the warning track. To veteran rightfielder Rick Ankiel, Maxwell’s an athletic marvel who somehow gracefully speeds from right-center to left-center, despite being one of the biggest players in an Astros uniform. To first-year manager Bo Porter, Maxwell’s at the “top of the chart” in terms of pure, natural talent.

“I don’t want Bud to feel bad and say Maxwell’s the best athlete,” Porter joked.

Then the manager got serious.

“A lot of times, you look at spring training numbers … and he was hitting a buck-something and I go, ‘I’m not worried about it,’ ” Porter said. “Because he was putting together some of the best at-bats we had on the team. You look at the number of balls he put in play hard – he had a high percentage. And now he’s putting the same swings on the ball and he’s getting hits. And, defensively, he’s one of the best defensive players in baseball.”