The latest article in our Marlin on the Rise series might be the longest one yet, but it needed to be.
Max Duval has worn nearly a dozen different uniforms since finishing high school. He’s due to be promoted to another new home in 2018 after thriving at Single-A Greensboro (38.2 IP, 2.09 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 38/5 K/BB). The 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher is old by prospect standards—(turning 27 in April)—because, well, he never planned on being a pitcher. And this offseason, he’s also coming for my job, starting his own blog chronicling the grind of a minor league player.
Duval set aside some time to talk with Fish Stripes about all of that, plus so much more.
Fish Stripes: Let’s rewind to your college career. You grew up in San Luis Obispo, CA, but transferred to the University of Hawaii for your junior season. What convinced you to go way out there?
Max Duval: That’s correct. My goal, for better or worse, was always to play Division I baseball. I had a good sophomore year at Cuesta College and had several Div II offers, but Hawaii was really the only Div I school that showed major interest and offered me a scholarship. The Div I opportunity was the primary reason I decided on UH, but it didn’t hurt that I would get to spend at least a couple years in Hawaii [laughing].
Fish Stripes: And Hawaii baseball is actually on a hot streak recently. Major leaguers Kolten Wong, Greg Garcia and Steven Wright all went there. Do you have relationships with any of them?
Max Duval: Ya. Hawaii has produced some pretty solid talent. David Freitas is another UH alum. He made his MLB debut last season. I knew Kolten a little bit when I was out there, but I don’t know any of the other guys.
Fish Stripes: That's right, Freitas too. Well, you reached the first goal of playing Div I, but then went undrafted out of college. Did you consider moving on from baseball at that point? (Or were there any family/friends telling you to move on?)
Max Duval: Yes. I had a very rough two years at Hawaii. I was mentally defeated every time I stepped into the batters box for two years. Part of me wanted to hang up my cleats, but the only thing that kept me going was my mom sitting me down and telling me that if any part of me wanted to play, I owed it to myself to give it a shot. I had heard about Indy ball and figured if I got better on the mound, I could at least buy myself one year of “professional baseball.”
Fish Stripes: You had limited experience as a pitcher before turning pro, and the results weren't pretty. What kind of "stuff" did you have on the mound at that point?
Max Duval: They weren’t pretty for a year or two after college either [laughing]. I had a fastball that touched 90 mph on a good day, a big sweeping slurve and a split-change that I couldn’t control. There were a few signs that I could have been good had I been pitching for years before that, but overall it was very unpolished.
Fish Stripes: Makes sense. But eventually, you made the leap to affiliated MiLB baseball in 2016 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Had success not just as a pitcher, but as a starter. What adjustments made the difference for you?
Max Duval: It took a few years of people telling me that I needed innings—but they didn’t have any room for a project like me—to find a place to get those innings and get confidence on the mound. From there, the adjustments came pretty quickly. What truly made the difference for me was working hard on realigning my mental game and the development of a cutter. I feel like that’s been the catalyst for my success and to getting that first opportunity in affiliated ball.
Fish Stripes: A great season, but a crazy one! Almost looks like a typo, but according to Baseball-Reference, you split 2016 with five different minor league teams (one independent & four D-backs affiliates). How is it possible to focus on work when you’re moving around that much?
Max Duval: It was ridiculous. All that travel happened over the course of 14 days. It was pretty shocking as a first experience in affiliated baseball. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, as they say.
It was difficult to focus for those two weeks. Once I signed, I didn’t spend more than six days at any level until Low-A, so I didn’t find a good routine until I got to Kane County, where I pitched for the rest of the season. It was uncomfortable, but as the cliché goes, in this game, we learn to work in uncomfortable scenarios.
Fish Stripes: Fortunately, you had it easier this past season (only two teams). And the results improved even more. Specifically, you began dominating lefty batters. How did that happen?
Max Duval, 2016 MiLB Stats (with Diamondbacks)
Max Duval, 2017 MiLB Stats (with Marlins)
Max Duval: The season was a nice change of pace from the craziness of the entire previous year, but 2017 started out rough with getting released in spring training. Then, signing with an indy ball team that folded before I found another spot to play.
Honestly, I’m not sure what to attribute to the success against lefties. This season, I started taking diligent notes on hitters both while I was in the stands charting and when I was pitching in the game. Having been a hitter and studying hitting excessively growing up, I think that gives me an advantage as far as my approach to attacking hitters. That, and I think the cutter is pretty tough to hit [laughing].
Fish Stripes: After latching on with a team, you had a strong year. So did Aaron Judge. You guys have a bit of personal history, right?
Max Duval: [Laughing] Aaron had himself a great year. He’s a ridiculous physical specimen. If you were to ask him, I doubt he would refer to it as “personal history” and that’s if he even remembers that night, but I guess I would say it’s a little personal. In my eyes, he owes me $80. He may see it differently though.
Fish Stripes: Hopefully you get a shot to confront him about that in person sometime soon! Which leads to my final question: Have you heard where you'll be playing next season?
Max Duval: I’d love to confront him about it just to see if he remembers it at all. If nothing else, it’s at least a fun story to tell!
I have not heard anything about next season. I have my offseason training goals and I will focus on getting ready for the season. Here comes another cliché, but where the organization sees me in 2018 is beyond my control. I’ll go into spring training with specific goals, but ultimately, I’ll just show up and do my job wherever they send me.