Padres are looking to lean on Maybin in 2013

Padres are looking to lean on Maybin in 2013

PEORIA, Ariz. -- As the Padres put the finishing touches on Spring Training and head toward Opening Day on Monday, they do so knowing they will be without third baseman Chase Headley most of April and with left fielder Carlos Quentin still nursing a sore right knee.

That much-improved offense from the second half of 2012, the one these Padres are depending on moving forward, suddenly doesn't look quite so formidable.

"We've got guys in this locker room that can and will step up," catcher Nick Hundley said.

One of the players the Padres are counting on -- depending on -- is center fielder Cameron Maybin, who like many of his teammates, struggled early last season and spent the second half playing catchup.

"It wasn't an up-and-down season; it was a down season until the end," Maybin said.

Maybin, who turns 26 on April 4, had 15 hits all of last April and hit .212 in the first half of the season, as he fidgeted with his swing and stance, searching for something that was repeatable, something that he could work with, something that produced results. He hit .283 in the second half.

"It was the big leg kick and really not staying with any consistent approach mechanically," manager Bud Black said.

After working tirelessly with hitting coach Phil Plantier, Maybin found something that worked for him in the second half -- eliminating the leg kick, having a shorter stride, having his hands in a good spot and, a big one, doing away with the constant tinkering.

"I feel like this is the first time in my career where I'm not searching for anything," Maybin said. "I've got a good foundation, and now I can just go and play. That's the thing I'm looking forward to the most. For myself, I think it's going to be a big year. I'm excited."

His manager has noticed as much during Spring Training.

"He's in a good spot," Black said. "This spring, we've seen a sharp focus and more consistent, everyday approach to his total game."

Maybin's work this winter wasn't just with Plantier. He also worked with former Padres Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn, who imparted words that Maybin needed to hear.

"He told me I've got to figure out what kind of player I want to be," Maybin said. "It just made sense. As simple as that sounds, no one ever said that. It was always, try this or try that. It was something I had to figure out."

Maybin made his Major League debut at the age of 20 with the Tigers -- two years after Detroit selected him with the 10th overall pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. Maybin's first Major League hit was a single off Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens. Two innings later, Maybin hit his first home run, also off Clemens.

Maybin was traded to the Marlins after the season as part of the deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers. He bounced between Triple-A and the big leagues until former Padres general manager Jed Hoyer traded for him in November 2010. Maybin's been the Padres' center fielder since.

"It's been kind of a whirlwind, a learning experience," Maybin said.

Asked if he thinks his best baseball is still in the future, Maybin said he hopes to become the player that he knows he can be -- sooner rather than later.

"I hope it's not too far down the road. I feel like I haven't showed what I can do. I know I can compete with the best of them," he said.

Facing a schedule that includes 20 games against National League West foes in April, without Headley and with Quentin potentially in a limited role, the Padres need Maybin to take a step forward -- now.

"He's past the young player stage for me," Black said. "Once you get past two years, you're not a young player anymore. "There's now an expectation for Cam. It's his time."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.