For the last couple of seasons, the book on the left-handed Maddox was that he was a dead-pull hitter. In turn, teams gave the power hitter the Barry Bonds treatment. By shifting to the right side of the diamond, defenses dared Maddox to hit the ball the other way.
Now in his third season with Rookie-level Billings, Maddox is starting to make opponents think twice about that type of alignment.
Maddox saw the shift significantly with the Mustangs last season, and he's seen it to a lesser degree already in the early part of 2012. It's a strategy big league teams used for years against Bonds, who rarely hit to the opposite field.
Because of his penchant for pulling the ball, Maddox says the defensive approach is "self-inflicted." But the difference now is that Maddox knows his best opportunity to advance through the Cincinnati Reds' farm system is to learn to hit to all fields -- even though it may cut into some of his power numbers.
"I know I can pull the ball very well, with power," Maddox says. "But this year I'm working on driving the ball to center field and left field a lot better.
"If going the other way with the ball will help my overall game, then losing a couple home runs won't bother me. It will increase my batting average overall, my on-base percentage, doubles, triples, runs scored ... the pros outweigh the cons. I'm not really concerned about home runs, because I know I have the power. I'm not worried about the numbers. As long as I become a better overall hitter, that's the most important thing."
Maddox, an 18th-round pick in 2010 out of Ohio University, flashed signs of improvement last week, going to the opposite field for a two-out RBI double in the first inning against Missoula. Maddox drove the ball to the deepest part of Dehler Park -- about 420-feet from home plate -- off the wall in the left-center-field gap.
He did the same thing two nights earlier. Leading off the fifth inning, Maddox doubled to the gap in left to break up Chris Pack's no-hit bid. It ignited the Mustangs' offense, which eventually delivered the winning run to beat Missoula in the 10th.
Finally, in the team's first road trip through Helena, Maddox hit an opposite-field home run -- one of his two homers in the game -- to ignite a 9-4 victory.
"In Rookie ball, you don't see shifts like they do in the big leagues with left-handed hitters, yet with Robert we've seen it a lot," said second-year Mustangs manager Pat Kelly. "It was pretty apparent to everybody what type of pull hitter he was, so that was a great sign to see, for him to be able to take the ball the other way."
Maddox is hitting .345 with two homers and eight RBIs in eight games for Billings and is slugging .655 and had an OPS of 1.067.
Kelly said Maddox's attitude "has been outstanding. I thought he really worked hard in extended [spring training]. But it's hard. He was a college player, and this is his third year of Rookie ball. He'd probably tell you this is not where he wants to be. But at the same time it's an opportunity to play and an opportunity to get better."
Ominous Owlz: The Orem Owlz fell to a surprising 1-8 after a 12-7 loss in Grand Junction before rebounding Wednesday with a 7-6 victory over the Rockies. Under longtime manager Tom Kotchman, Orem is a perennial playoff team and one of the most respected franchises in the league, having won three championships in the last seven seasons.
Oops! Helena outfielder Raul Mondesi Jr. made a huge gaffe in a 2-1 loss to Missoula on June 25. Mondesi hit what would have been a game-tying solo home run in the 10th inning, but he failed to touch home plate. The Osprey appealed, and Mondesi was called out to end the game. Mondesi is one of two sons of former Major Leaguer Raul Mondesi currently in the Pioneer League. Adalberto Mondesi is with Idaho Falls.
Four more years: The Arizona Diamondbacks reached an agreement with Missoula to extend their Player Development Contract last week. The deal will last through the 2016 season. Missoula is currently in its 14th season as an affiliate of the Diamondbacks.