PEORIA, Ariz. -- Before Cameron Maybin played his first game with the Padres, then-general manager Jed Hoyer told him he was the team's everyday center fielder. Manager Bud Black later pulled aside Maybin and assured him of the very same thing last spring.
Maybin, who was obtained in November of 2010 from the Marlins, said that those early proclamations, while comforting, were taken with a small dose of skepticism.
The cynicism wore off pretty quickly, though.
"Last year I played every day as, 'I don't believe it until I see it.' Even now, when I know I'm going to play every day, I still try to take that mentality out there with me," Maybin said. "I guess somewhere along the way, I created a little chip on my shoulder. So I decided to keep it there."
That's perfectly fine for the Padres, who have again bestowed the everyday center fielding duties on the 24-year-old, who stole 40 bases and was mentioned in some circles as a candidate for a Gold Glove in his first season with the Padres.
So what to expect from Maybin in 2012?
The Padres still aren't entirely sure, which seems strange to say, considering that Maybin has over 1,000 plate appearances (1,064, to be exact) during a Major League career that began in 2007 at the age of 20, when he reached the big leagues with the Tigers.
Maybin bounced back and forth between the Minor and Major Leagues with the Tigers, and then after a trade to Florida, he did the same with the Marlins. In the summer of 2010, Hoyer asked the Marlins about the availability of Maybin and was flatly refused. In November of that year, the answer from Florida was a different one and the Padres had landed their center fielder.
He didn't disappoint in his first season with the Padres, hitting .264 with nine home runs and a career-high 40 steals in 137 games. On defense, he made a handful of the over-the-fence catches, and generally exceeded expectations.
"I liked his defense and base running, they were standouts last year. His bat was solid, going out there every day, hitting in a division with a lot of pitching," said Padres general manager Josh Byrnes. "And he was pretty consistent. Hopefully we can build on that. He's still young, so he's still developing as a hitter. But we think last year was solid, and he can build off that."
But the Padres still don't know what they have in Maybin. Will he develop into a leadoff hitter? He did lower his strikeout rate from 28.6 percent to 22 percent in 2011. His line drive rate went from 14.2 percent to 15.9 percent. He had the sixth-most infield hits (37) in the Majors, which is a testament to his speed.
Will Maybin become a true middle-of-the-order hitter? He has raw power, although he hasn't hit more than 13 home runs in any professional season. Some scouts think, like other long and lean players of similar body type, that his power will come later in his career.
"He's got power. But do you want to over-emphasize and risk some other things? With all of our players, we want consistency. I think he can, and will, hit more home runs. But he can do so many others things offensively, let's not lose those parts of his game," Byrnes said.
That's the last thing Black wants.
"You look at the skill set, and there's a lot of things to like," Black said. "We're going to do everything we can to bring it out of him. His will and desire has to be at a high level to bring that out, too. He's just got to break out."
That's exactly what Maybin wants for himself this season -- and beyond. He views last season as one of adjustment -- to a new team, a new city, a new role. Now he wants more.
"The biggest thing for me was just competing ... and going into a good division in what I thought was still my rookie season," Maybin said. "It was a matter of going out there now, knowing that I can make an impact. Now it's about helping the team win some games. I have to help out."
He is hoping to do that in San Diego for a long time. Maybin won't be arbitration eligible until after this season. There have been discussions between Byrnes and Maybin's agent, Brian Goldberg, regarding a contract extension. Goldberg is scheduled to arrive in the Phoenix-area sometime next week.
"It's a situation where I would love to play here for years and years to come ... especially since they gave me this opportunity," Maybin said. "These guys believe in me. Hopefully it all pans out. But San Diego is a place I would love to call home. It's hard not to fall in love with the city, the ballpark and fans."
But until that happens, Maybin will continue to play the game hard, and play it with a little chip on his shoulder. It worked for him last season, and he's counting on it to help him again.
"My dad has always said that there's a bunch of Cameron Maybin's out there ... alluding to all the good talent out there," Maybin said. "So it's a matter of how hard you work."