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Prospect waits for his turn

Prospect waits for his turn

SAN FRANCISCO -- Cameron Maybin ranks among the top prospects at the Futures Game. For this year's game, however, he was just a visitor.

Under normal circumstances, he'd be one of the biggest stars at the game, as he was last year at Pittsburgh's PNC Park. But thanks to a partially separated shoulder, he had to sit this one out.

The injury happened during a game a week ago for Class A Lakeland.

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"I was trying to make a diving play and laid out," he said. "Funny fall, man. Just landed on my elbow and my shoulder kind of popped out. It was weird. I'll be all right, though."

After a visit to Detroit on Thursday, doctors prescribed two weeks of rest. So for now, though he was in uniform for the game and was introduced with the active roster, Maybin is patiently biding his time.

In a sense, that's a good description of where his career is at, too.

With Maybin's five-tool talent and instincts for the game, the question with him has never been if he makes the Major Leagues, but when. The aura of inevitability grew stronger when he more than held his own playing regularly in Spring Training, when he was still a 19-year-old.

So far, however, the Tigers have emphasized patience with him. Though his spring performance raised the speculation that he could jump a level to Double-A Erie, he opened for Lakeland and has so far stayed there. In a lot of ways, the experience has been good for him.

Playing in what is considered a pitcher's league because of the jump in talent and big ballparks, Maybin is showing off just about every facet of his game. His .303 average is nearly identical to his clip last year for Class A West Michigan, while his eight homers are one off of his total for the entire 2006 season.

It could easily be higher.

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"There's been a lot of balls I've hit in that park in Lakeland that, I think if I was anywhere else in another league, I would have 10-15 home runs right now," he said. "But the ball just flies differently down there in Florida. It's hot and humid and thick air."

Those same conditions, however, are one of the benefits of a season down there. After learning how to stay in shape and maintain his strength last year at temperate West Michigan, he's sweating it out in the heart of summer.

"If you can play down there in that heat these next couple months," Maybin said, "I think you can play anywhere."

If he does, that means he wouldn't be playing in Erie this year. In the grand scheme, it probably doesn't matter in his timetable; the Tigers said all along that he wouldn't play in the Majors this year. Symbolically, it's a sign the Tigers don't want to rush their most prized position prospect in years.

"You just have to handle it as best you can," he said. "All I can do is go out and play my game, play hard. I wish I was moving a little bit faster, but the only thing I control is playing well. My thing is to go out and play hard and just be consistent every day. That's all I'm trying to do, go out and enjoy it. As long as I'm playing, I'm happy."

Even without playing, he'd have a hard time not enjoying himself here. He planned to stick around after the Futures Game and meet up with Ken Griffey Jr., his good friend and mentor since his days playing summer ball in Cincinnati.

They talk on the phone regularly, but it has been tougher this season with their schedules. However, they share the same agent, Brian Goldberg, who has become a go-between.

"He's always checking up on me," Maybin said. "It's definitely good to know. I know I have to play well, especially if he's going to be checking up on me. I know I have to bring the game."

He isn't the only mentor Maybin has in center field. Maybin and Curtis Granderson have become good friends ever since Spring Training. When Maybin was in Detroit this past week, he made a point to say hello to Granderson and talk with him about the season he's having.

"He's having a great year," Maybin said. "I told him he's on pace for at least 30 [triples]. I told him to keep swinging it, just keep playing hard. I love the way he plays the game. He plays the game hard, and I think that's one thing a lot of people will say when they watch him play. He's a positive guy, man. Being a center fielder, you want guys like that on your team."

Eventually, they could be on the same team. But only one can play center field at a time. It's one of the most intriguing questions about Maybin at this point in his career, where he'll play when he's ready and who he could replace. But for now, that's the least of his worries.

Like here, he'll wait his time.

"My thing is if I'm up there, as long as I'm in the lineup, whatever happens, happens," he said. "I would love to play center field, and I'm sure Curtis would love to play center field, but as long as the team is doing well, whatever situation that may be, that would be the biggest thing. When you get there, the biggest thing is trying to get a win and trying to get a ring.

"I don't think it would matter too much. I would just love to be in that lineup with him. I told him the other day, 'I can't wait until we'll all be in the same lineup.' I'm definitely looking forward to that."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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