INDIANAPOLIS – Swinging at the first pitch seems like a simple idea, but not if trying to break years of habit doing the opposite. Max Moroff has never lacked patience at the plate. So much, that it has often been one of the knocks against the utility infielder.

He simply took too many pitches. Sure, he’d get his walks — leading the International League with 90 last season — but those came at the expense of bypassing hittable pitches.

Not this season.

Moroff has 13 home runs, tied for most in the International League. His previous high for home runs at any level of professional baseball was eight. He’s averaging a home run every 14.4 plate appearances this season with Indianapolis. Moroff’s previous season-high was eight home runs, accomplished twice — last season with Indianapolis and with West Virginia in 2013, when he averaged a home run about every 63 to 65 plate appearances.

Indianapolis hitting coach Butch Wynegar had a simple, two-pronged message for Moroff this offseason: expand the zone of what he considers hittable pitches, and don’t be afraid to swing early in the at-bat.

“It’s time to take a risk,” Wynegar said. “You’ll never know if you can hit those pitches unless you take a shot at them. It’s taken a little while, but he’s starting to understand it now. That’s a big part of his success.”

Moroff has hit four home runs on the first pitch of his at-bat this season, and another one on a 1-0 count. Those are swings Moroff would not have taken in previous seasons. He would instead have been looking to take pitches to get ahead in the count.

And just because Moroff has shown success this season hitting early in the count, that doesn’t mean he’s completely free of old habits. They just don’t disappear that quickly.

“It’s still tough because the past five seasons I’ve played, I probably didn’t swing 95 percent of the time at first pitch unless there were runners in scoring position and then I was ready,” Moroff said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s still tough for me to be ready on that first pitch, instead of seeing one and say, ‘OK, I’ve got my timing down.’ Instead being ready to hit the first pitch, get my timing down and let it go.”

Moroff has hit seven of his home runs when he’s ahead in the count, and four home runs — including those three on the first pitch — when the count has been even.

Breaking those habits is made easier after a year in Triple-A and by making his major league debut last season, playing six games with the Pirates over the past two seasons.

“So, he’s not afraid to try to a little more,” Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett said. “I just think he’s getting his A-swing off. I think last year he took a lot of pitches in hitter’s count and this year I think he’s looking to fire on them a little bit more. I think he knows he has some power and can get his A-swing off.”

Moroff has a pair of multi-home run games this season, hitting one from both sides of the plate in each of those games.

“I’m being a little more aggressive early on,” Moroff said. “I’m more relaxed. I’m just ready to hit. I’m on time and ready to hit. They just happen. I’m not trying to hit them out, I’m just hitting them on the barrel.”

In the offseason, Moroff and Wynegar worked together six or seven times. Aside from discussing approach at the plate, the two worked on Moroff’s stride which may be another reason for his power increase.

“Lengthening the stride out and getting stronger in his lower half,” Wynegar said. “If anything, that might be the secret to him right now. He’s just getting a little bit leverage with his lower half and that’s allowed his upper half to get through the ball and his hands to get through the ball a lot easier. He’s done a great job of making hard contact and the balls are going out of the park.”

So, what type of hitter is Moroff becoming or should try to become? He doesn’t have a towering frame, standing 5-feet-10, but is a sturdy player. The power potential is there but don’t expect Moroff to be a perennial league leader in home runs.

“He’ll fool you with the eye test on how much power he actually does have,” Barkett said. “You don’t realize this kid has big time power from both sides of the plate because he just doesn’t look like it. But he does. He has 20-home run potential in the big leagues. Our goal is to get him to use his hand-eye coordination in the strike zone early to put himself in the best count that he can, and let his natural ability take control.”

Moroff has always battled the “too selective” label as a hitter. Now, he’s become a legitimate threat at the plate. He’s not looking to become a home run hitter, but a gap hitter who will hit home runs. Moroff will be joining the Pirates this weekend in New York, getting his second look in the big leagues this season. This one could be a longer look, and if Moroff can carry his power over to the majors, he could be up for good.

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  1. I really don’t get why some guys are so down on Harrison. Granted, he’s not a perennial all-star, but he is putting up good numbers and plays respectable defense. He’s an asset to a team that cannot afford to dismiss assets so easily.

    • I agree. I love the passion in which he plays. When I watch Polanco jog for balls, he makes me wonder how he feels as a young player that he shouldn’t be putting out to show that he is trying his best. Then you see Jhay and I’ve got to give him my support.

  2. looks like Clint buried another prospect by not playing him. Poor Hanson, got no or very little chance to play. Guess next in line for Clint to destroy is Moroff. He will play sparingly, not be successful and be sent down, while the Goose will get more time, not do well and keep getting at bats. CH needs to be fired.

    • Hanson just isn’t good, people need to let it go. He wasn’t good in AAA hitting so why should he be better in the big league?

  3. I have compared him to the utility player Mark Belhorn a lot but he is also a little similar in size, approach, and results at around the same age as Jose Bautista. Hopefully, they realize this time that Moroff has an approach and skillset you don’t want to give up on, despite slow early returns. It’s getting to the point the way they are playing and the way their offense is that he needs to be up. I love Gift but he isn’t even playing SS so I would send him down for more consistent AB that he needs way more than Moroff, and give Max a few wacks against weaker starters to try and give their offense a boost.

    • How much longer does J-Hay have in a Pirate uniform? As well as Watson and Nicasio. I could see LeBlanc having some value in a deal too. It’s a strange year because I could see the Pirates being big sellers but not decimating their team and chances of winning much. They could trade 4,5,6 players at the deadline and still play .500 or above ball. Maybe wishful thinking but with Meadows, Taillon, maybe Moroff, Kingham, Santana, and Sadler all coming soon. It doesn’t seem so bleak to be sellers.

      • You left Cutch off that list. Was that intentional? He is by far the biggest trade chip wearing a Pirates uniform.

        I won’t be the least bit surprised if Cutch, Watson, and JHay are all wearing a different uniform on August 1st.

      • That’s why all this “blow it up” talk is silly to me. You don’t blow it up by keeping the majority of your good players.

        The only guy with more than a year of control remaining that may get dealt is Cole; the rest are marginal pieces, at best.

      • They aren’t playing .500 ball now. Why would that change after they trade players? I do agree that those trades wouldn’t decimate the team b/c I don’t think there’s much of a winning team there right now.

  4. I’d like to see Moroff get an extended look at 2B, with J-Hay at 3rd. Freese has scuffled since returning from the DL, 179/292/304. Moroff needs to bring his new approach to the bigs and get through the initial bumps.

      • I feel that’s too far ahead, with so many possibilities, to be able to speculate what may or may not happen. Trades, injuries, hot/cold streaks, etc.

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