When Max Schrock settles into the batter’s box for the Cincinnati Reds, he drives his heels into the ground and locks his knees.
Reds first baseman Joey Votto made an adjustment last season to crouch less at the plate, but no one on the team stands straighter in the batter’s box than Schrock. At 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Schrock spent most of his six-year Minor League career looking for an adjustment that would produce more power.
Early in his professional career, Schrock pointed his front knee to home plate. In 2019, Schrock bent both of his knees and crouched to the same height as the home plate umpire. But Schrock abandoned that approach following that season in favor of a batting stance that he said he hasn’t seen anywhere else in MLB.
Schrock’s decision to stand up at the plate led him to the big leagues and one of the best stretches he has had as a professional hitter.
“My whole career, I’ve been trying to feel what’s comfortable,” Schrock said. “That’s feeling comfortable right now. Maybe it won’t feel comfortable tomorrow and it switches up, but that’s what I’m liking to do.”
Schrock, 26, is hitting .314 with the Reds this season in 56 plate appearances. He has bounced between the Reds roster and the Louisville Bats for most of the season. But he has hit well enough that while left fielder Jesse Winker is on the 10-day injured list, Schrock has become Winker’s replacement in the outfield against right-handed starting pitchers.
“He hasn’t been up with us a lot, but every opportunity he has had, he has made the most of it,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He has shown willingness and the effort and the ability to play multiple positions, which makes it easier to get him in the lineup. And then in his at-bats, he can hit.”
Schrock, a 13th round pick by the Washington Nationals in 2015, has already played in five different MLB organizations in seven seasons. He was traded twice in deals for MLB players, and he made his MLB debut with the St. Louis Cardinals last season.
He said last season was about “getting as comfortable as possible with the circumstances,” but Schrock didn’t have too much of a chance to accomplish that.
While he worked on the adjustment to his batting stance at the Cardinals alternate site, Schrock onlyhad 17 at-bats last season. The Cardinals waived him at the end of the 2020 season. The Cubs claimed Schrock, but then they designated him for assignment in February.
The Reds claimed Schrock on February 10, wrapping up a hectic offseason for Schrock.
“When stuff like that happens in the offseason, it’s nice because you don’t physically have to go anywhere,” Schrock said. “You’re just watching your name go from place to place so it’s not as chaotic as getting traded in the middle of the season and having to change apartments. That’s the blessing of it.”
Schrock entered spring training deep on the Reds organizational depth chart in the infield. He hit over .400 over the first week of spring training, but then he injured his right calf. Schrock returned for the end of spring training, and he was considered for the last spot on the Opening Day roster.
Instead, he spent most of the first two months of the regular season at the Reds alternate site and in Triple-A. At the end of May, Schrock got four starts in a week for the first time in his MLB career. He hit .429 over those four games, including a game against the Philadelphia Phillies where he had a triple, a double and a home run.
On the double, Schrock suffered another calf injury, and he didn’t make it back to the MLB roster until the end of July.
In August, with outfielders Shogo Akiyama and Aristides Aquino struggling at the plate, the Reds called up Schrock and made him a platoon outfielder. Winker will reclaim the starting spot in left field when he comes off the injured list.
While he gains more consistent playing time, Schrock said he feels as comfortable as he ever has at the Major League level.
“If I had to put my thumb on one thing, I’m confident,” Schrock said. “I’ve built a little more confidence this year, and we all know how important confidence is. It’s the driving factor.”