INDIANAPOLIS – The Pirates have placed a bigger focus toward on-base percentage this year, and they’ve always made it a priority to have versatility with their position players. Those two trends make Adam Frazier and Max Moroff a pair of interesting names in Indianapolis.
Both players had semi-disappointing 2014 campaigns, then broke out at the plate last season. From a scouting standpoint, they were two players who looked better than the results leading up to the 2015 season, so their success wasn’t completely unexpected. Additionally, both players saw time at several positions last season in Altoona, showing a Swiss army knife mentality when it came to defense.
Moroff saw time at third base and his natural position of shortstop, but was primarily utilized as a second baseman. He is blocked at the position by Alen Hanson in Indianapolis, but will still see some time there when Hanson is resting or playing elsewhere.
“I knew that I was going to be moving around the last two years,” Moroff said. “I will be playing second, third, and maybe a little short this year. I expect to play the best defense that I can play and make all of the routine plays to help the pitcher out. Hopefully that will contribute to wins.”
From day-to-day, Moroff does not see any issues with moving around, as long as he is able to get a bit of prep time.
“Hopefully I know where I am playing the day of or the day before so I can take my ground balls there,” Moroff said. “It really isn’t that tough.”
Similarly, Frazier saw time at four positions last season. He played primarily in center field, while seeing some time in left field early in the season with Altoona. That’s where he is spending much of the time with Indianapolis this year. When Gift Ngoepe was promoted to Indianapolis last year, Frazier moved back to shortstop, which is a more natural position for him. He also got a game in at third base.
Frazier has had some issues in the outfield when it comes to arm strength, which could limit him long-term at the position. However, he is pleased with the opportunity to play multiple positions when it comes to getting him to the big leagues earlier.
“It is good [to have the versatility],” Frazier said. “It adds value to the team and for myself. It gives me a better opportunity to move up to the next level. If you get stuck in one position, you may have a stud at the next level to block you. It adds value and keeps you fresh. You don’t get locked into one spot, you just go out there and react.”
The comparison between the two players does not end with the ability to move around the field. Outside of the .307 OBP in 2014, Frazier has not been lower than .384 at any level. Last season, Moroff saw a huge spike from a .324 OBP to .374.
The Pirates have shown with the recent player moves in the majors and in the draft that they are looking for guys who can get on base. It’s not a new trend for the team, as that focus is what led to them targeting Frazier and Moroff in the first place. But with both players at the same level, projected for utility roles in the future, they might be competing for the same spot in Pittsburgh. Early on, Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor has seen some tendencies of trying to do too much too early.
“[Frazier] needs to hit the ball the other way,” Treanor said. “When you come up from Double-A to the next level, you get a little anxious about proving you belong there. You have a tendency to do a little too much, now I think he is starting to settle in and be relaxed at the plate. [Moroff] also falls into that category and is also trying to do a little too much at the plate. He’s going to be fine. You don’t do what he has in the past and then not carry over into the next season.”
At the plate the season, Frazier went hitless in his first two games, reaching base once. Since then, he had a three-game hit streak, which included a three-hit game last Wednesday, and a hit and two walks on Friday night. That has been followed by him going 2-for-12 with a walk over his last four games.
Moroff struggled early in the season, with only two hits in five games. However, he said that some of it is just due to adjusting to a new level of pitching. Some of this is showcased in the fact that he has walked six times. Proof of the value of this was displayed on Friday night when he scored two of the three runs in an extra inning game where hits for the team were at a minimum. Moroff followed that with a home run on Sunday, his first of the year. He is hitting .148 through ten games, yet he still has a .674 OPS due to the high walk total.
“I feel just like I felt last year, pretty good,” Moroff said. “I saw the ball well in the spring and I am seeing the ball really well. The pitching is better, but I am seeing it well. I am just trying to hit the fastball, middle away, then adjust from there. It is really simple, but that is what I try to do every time.”
The beginning of the 2016 season differs from last season for Frazier, simply because he is playing. He missed the first month of the season due to a hand injury.
“It is nice [to start the season healthy],” Frazier said. “You never like missing time. One positive out of last year, I did get to miss the cold weather. I had a pretty good spring, so to get a full season going to build on it [is nice].”
Frazier feels that he will perform well at the start of the 2016 season, due to the momentum that he’s carrying over from last season and last fall. He hit .321 with a .965 OPS in the Arizona Fall League, then had a good campaign with the USA Premier12 Team. Continuing to keep swinging and working hard has Frazier seeing an advantage.
“I got to keep [the momentum] going throughout the fall too,” Frazier said. “I think that was big. I did not have a whole lot of time off, so I got to keep the flow and the swing going. I just want to keep doing what I am doing. I want to keep it simple. The more simple that you are at the plate, the more success you usually have.”
Spots in the big league are clearly limited, and there can only be so many players on the roster who do the exact same thing. With the obvious similarities between Moroff and Frazier, it appears that they may be competing for the same super utility spot eventually. That’s a good thing for the Pirates, as it gives them plenty of depth and makes it more likely that they’ll get a good bench option from this pair. It might even give them some trade depth in the future. The performance of Moroff and Frazier will determine which player gets that future spot, which makes their progress in Indianapolis this year a big thing to watch.