BALTIMORE -- Justin Maxwell was on his way to Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Wednesday afternoon and thinking about his game plan against Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez when he got a phone call that would turn his world upside down -- and give him a shot at a pennant race.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow called and informed him he was headed to the Kansas City Royals in a trade for Minor League right-handed pitcher Kyle Smith. Maxwell packed his bags, hugged teammates and was soon on his way to the airport.
"I was definitely surprised, but I'm excited," he said. "I don't know much about Kansas City. I think the team is in the Wild Card hunt. That's what I heard, at least. I'll be excited to join my new teammates and meet everybody. I definitely enjoyed my time in Houston. It was my first extended experience in the big leagues, and I had a lot of fun this year and last year and met a lot of great guys this year. I just wish them all the best."
Prospect acquired by Astros
Kyle Smith, RHP: Smith was more polished than most high school pitchers when the Royals selected him in the fourth round in the 2011 Draft. Accordingly, he has quickly moved through the Minor Leagues. At the time of the trade, Smith was in Class A Advanced Wilmington, where his 2.85 ERA ranked fourth in the Carolina League. Listed at 6-foot, 170 pounds, Smith is slightly undersized and doesn't blow hitters away. But he makes up for it with advanced pitchability and good secondary stuff. Smith's fastball sits in the low-90s and he mixes it with a solid curveball and changeup. He commands all three pitches well thanks to his smooth, easy delivery. Smith profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Smith, 20, went 5-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 19 starts with Class A Advanced Wilmington in 2013 in his second pro season and adds to the Astros' impressive right-handed pitching in the Minor Leagues. He was ranked by MLB.com as the Royals' No. 11 prospect and was a fourth-round pick by the Royals in 2011.
General manager Jeff Luhnow said trading Maxwell wasn't a goal of the organization, but Kansas City called and said it needed a right-handed hitter.
"I've said from the beginning, I'm going to take phone calls on any player and see if what's out there is in the best interest of the organization," Luhnow said. "Kyle Smith is a player we had inquired about last year in a separate deal that didn't come to fruition. When his name came up, we jumped at the deal."
Maxwell, 29, hasn't been able to get into a rhythm this season after missing two months with a fractured left hand. He was hitting .241 with two homers and seven RBIs after batting .229 with a team-leading 18 homers and 53 RBIs last year for the Astros, who claimed him off waivers in April 2012.
"I missed two months with my hand," he said. "The year definitely didn't go the way I wanted, but they always say, 'Try to finish strong,' so that's what I'm looking forward to doing in the future."
The Astros felt comfortable moving Maxwell because they have some outfield depth, which was increased Wednesday after they acquired L.J. Hoes from the Orioles in the Bud Norris deal. Brandon Barnes and Robbie Grossman can also play center field, and top prospect George Springer is knocking at the door.
"I've always said, guys become great in the big leagues based on experience," Maxwell said. "I think we have a lot of young guys who are getting a lot of experience now. I had some time during my rehab stint to see some of the prospects we had gotten in trades last year, and this team's future is bright. Best of luck to them and my time here was great, but I'm excited to be going to Kansas City."