Catching Control

Maddox harnesses his maximum effort

Not many sixth graders can stand in the box in a high school baseball game, eyeing 84-86 mph heat on a regulation-sized field. But a young Austin Maddox was making believers out of those in attendance when he did just that, and knocked a base hit into right field.

At least, until he was too slow to make it to first base before being thrown out from the outfield.

"I was just a little, slow, fat kid," Maddox recalled.

Still, the raw talent and baseball IQ were evident even at a young age, and it wouldn't be long until the physicality caught up.

"Maturity-wise he was ahead of the game," Eagle's View Academy coach Gill Morales said. "All of the sudden in ninth grade, he got taller, his arm strength started to catch up and you could tell it was about to happen. We always say he's just a freak."

That freak now looms at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, with a cannon of a right arm and serious power at the plate. A boy among men his whole life, Maddox has grown up, bulked up, and now boasts a tailor-made big league body.

Still, the catcher with the best arm strength of any position player in his class credits playing above his age group with his rise to the upper tier of the nation's prospect lists.

"At first, the speed of the game overwhelmed me a little," Maddox said. "But I got used to it and it's part of the reason why my talent is good, because I've been playing with kids older than me my whole life."

With Maddox behind the plate, any hope of a running game goes by the wayside. He's developed such a reputation in Jacksonville, Fla., for gunning down overzealous base runners that most opposing teams have stopped trying to steal on him. The sheer power behind the throw makes up for imperfect mechanics in setting it up.

He even said he often waits in his crouch, hoping a runner will take off, just so he can have the chance to hose him at second.

"The only time anyone ever tries to (steal) is during these showcases," he said after the recent Tournament of Stars in Cary, N.C. "There's kids that maybe are a little faster that'll try and steal. During high school no one ever tries."

That arm also is shown off when Maddox flips the tables and toes the rubber instead. He is still raw as a pitcher, but his fastball touched 94 mph when given a chance. Still, he said his future most likely lies behind the plate—a place where Morales thinks he can play every day in the big leagues.

"You don't see guys throw 90 miles an hour to second—you just don't see that," Morales said. "When he throws to second or first when he's catching, our whole entire staff was like, 'Oh my god.' The ball will get there, and our second baseman and shortstop always have to be on their toes. An average catcher can't do that; an above-average catcher can't do that."

It's not just Maddox's pop times (the time from the ball hitting the catcher's mitt to the second baseman's glove on a throw) that have scouts mesmerized. He also has some serious pop swinging the bat.

He batted .515 for Eagle's View Academy last year, and his monster swing produced 12 home runs and 67 RBIs— and he drew 27 walks.

"It's like controlled aggression," Morales said. "He's able to swing the bat extremely hard and still be able to take those violent takes and find the barrel. He's just so max effort but it's under control.

"There's just a different sound when he hits."

For as loud as his bat has become, Maddox has remained pretty quiet, himself. His hunting and fishing hobbies fit in well with his reserved personality, and Morales confirmed that he doesn't say much, instead leading by example.

Maddox played for the 2007 USA Baseball Youth National Team, and he is on the trials list for this year's squad, as well. As for next year, Maddox is committed to attend the school he's been a lifetime fan of: the University of Florida.

"I've always been a Florida Gator," he said.

But whether he'll actually be one next year will depend on when his name is called in the draft, and he said his mind won't be made up until after that moment.

His ultimate goal, as one might expect, is to make it to the major leagues, maybe even to play for his favorite team, the Atlanta Braves. But he didn't always know such a goal could be within reach until about two years ago.

"I received a lot of attention from colleges after my sophomore year in the summer, playing in a lot of showcases," he said. "And after that, it was like, I'm just going to start working my butt off, and hopefully I can someday make it to the big leagues."