GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- On Saturday, Max Schrock described his Cactus League approach succinctly: “Don’t think: See ball, hit ball.” With a .619 batting average over his first 10 games, he has seen the ball, and he has certainly hit it.
“We’ve seen it now consistently -- left-handers, right-handers, fastballs -- he can hit,” manager David Bell said. “He’s doing absolutely everything that he can to prove that he’s a big part of this team. He’s definitely doing his part.”
Spring Training returns can be deceiving and are far from an assurance of how the 162-game grind will play out. But when it comes to earning big league plate appearances in the wake of an unusually quick spring ramp-up, there’s no member of the Reds swinging the bat quite like Schrock. The utility player entered Saturday 13-for-21 with four extra-base hits and three walks, delivering an eye-popping .619/.640/.857 slash line.
Barreling up the ball is nothing new for the left-handed hitter. Of the 102 batted balls Schrock put into play last season, 40.2% were designated as being hit on the sweet spot, which means that they registered an exit velocity of at least 95 mph and were hit between 8 and 32 degrees in the air -- optimal contact for a hitter. Extrapolated over the course of a season, that would have ranked eighth in the Majors among qualified hitters.
“My main focus is hitting the ball hard,” Schrock said. “It’s nice to see those exit velocities. It’s kind of reassurance.
“My trajectory probably needs to be a little bit lower, as far as launch angle goes. I’m more focused on hitting those line drives. [Hitting coach Alan Zinter] really preaches between 5 and 25 [degrees], and that’s really my focus right there.”
While it’s not a certainty that the 27-year-old Schrock breaks camp with the big league club, his versatility makes him an appealing candidate for the utility role, especially with Donovan Solano set to begin the season on the injured list because of a left hamstring strain.
Schrock started at five positions last season for Cincinnati: first, second and third base, along with left and right field. Combined with the addition of the designated hitter in the National League, opportunity has presented itself, and Schrock has burst his way through the door.
“I’m just trying to find any way I can to get into the lineup and kind of create opportunities for myself,” Schrock said. “I’ve been working every day in the outfield, at first base a little bit, third base, just kind of wherever I can fit that day. I’m going to work hard at all of them.”
Schrock has primarily been deployed across the infield throughout Cactus League play and has made just one start in left field. Despite that, he was working among the outfielders during drills as recently as Saturday.
A rough patch to conclude the 2021 season poured cold water on Schrock’s overall numbers. Through Sept. 6, he was batting .339 with a .959 OPS. From that point on, he hit .242 with a .609 OPS.
Staying perpetually ready for action has benefited Schrock during his Reds tenure. He went 7-for-17 as a pinch-hitter in 2021, and his first career five-hit game -- Aug. 1 vs. the Mets -- came during what was his first start at the big league level in more than two months. When asked where that approach -- any time, any role -- stems from, Schrock was again concise.
“Go in there and battle and compete,” he said. “I think a lot of times, that tends to work in a hitter’s favor.”