By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa.—There’s no question that second baseman Max Moroff is one of the Curve’s most pleasant surprises of the 2015 season.
In fact, he was arguably the club’s most valuable player the first half of the season.
After the Curve’s first 71 games (half of the Eastern League season), Moroff was fourth in the EL in batting average (.314) and was tied with teammate Josh Bell for the league lead in hits with 85 each. His OPS was .807, and he had 21 extra base hits, including three home runs. He’s had two double-digit hitting streaks (12 and 11 games), 28 multi-hit games and a 30-game on-base streak that was just three short of the franchise record.
Those numbers are really impressive considering Moroff had a .244 average in 130 games at high-A Bradenton last season.
Moroff credits a lot of his early success at Altoona to batting coach Kevin Riggs.
“I struggled the first week here (Altoona),” Moroff was saying recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “(Riggs) took me aside and recommended I get some rhythm in my swing. He suggested a little movement before I swing. He said I was too tense, so I’ve worked on it ever since and it’s worked out.
“I use it on both sides,” the switch hitter said.
Born and raised in Winter Park, Florida, Moroff celebrated his 22nd birthday in May, and signed after his senior year at Trinity Prep High School. He attended a couple weeks of summer school at the University of Central Florida before heading to the Gulf Coast League where he batted .343 in 23 games.
“Tom Prince was the manager and we won the GCL championship,” Moroff noted. “I got a ring and that was pretty cool.”
Moroff was promoted to low-A West Virginia in 2013 where played for manager Mike Ryan and batted .233 in 115 games for the Power, who qualified for the South Atlantic League playoffs. Then it was Bradenton last season and the Marauders qualified for the Florida State League playoffs under Prince.
“I’ve made the playoffs every year,” Moroff said, “so, hopefully, we can make it again this year. There are a lot of the same guys.”
Several Bradenton teammates, plus a couple of key returning veterans, have joined Moroff in Altoona and the Curve have been near the top of the EL Western Division standings most of the season.
One of the veterans who played a big part in the Curve success was shortstop Gift Ngoepe, who was recently promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis. Moroff credits Ngoepe with helping him make the switch from shortstop to second base.
“Gift is a good guy,” Moroff said. “He’s the best defensive player I‘ve ever played with. He’s helped me get better.”
Ngoepe repaid the compliment, saying: “He’s gotten a lot better. We communicate a lot and discuss a lot of different things that happen in the game. He gets better every game.”
“I played shortstop all my life until last year at spring training,” the 5-10, 180-pound Moroff said. “They wanted me to play more than one position and I’m enjoying second base. It’s a nice, easy throw.”
Moroff has been solid at second base, committing six errors in 69 games.
“Hopefully, I’ll keep progressing,” he said. “Pittsburgh is the goal.”
As for the EL, Moroff noted: “The game is quicker, the guys are faster and throw harder, but our team has the ability to bounce back. We don’t quit.”
Except for the cold weather in the spring, Moroff is enjoying Altoona, too.
“The stadium is by far one of the nicest,” he said. “The surface is great and the fans are awesome.
“And, the roller coaster. That’s really different.”