Overlooked Moritz out to make his mark

Braves sixth-rounder hoping to bring college success to Danville

Andrew Moritz was a .400 hitter at UNC-Greensboro and led the Southern Conference in batting for three years. (Tim Cowie Photography)

By Vincent Lara-Cinisomo / MiLB.com | June 19, 2018 12:00 PM

For all the ways Andrew Moritz's success may seem to have come out of nowhere, it can perhaps be traced back through the years to an old-school hitting machine and the magazine once known as the "Bible of Baseball."

Around age 8, Moritz began spending hours in his St. Louis backyard with a SoloHitter batting machine. Turns out, those early exercises were the seeds of an improbable college run and a sixth-round selection in the 2018 First-Year Player Draft.

"[The SoloHitter] was just a ball lined up that you hit into the net, and it's tied to a string. You can hit all day on this thing. ... It might have been somebody from The Sporting News [who gave it to us] actually," said Moritz, whose father, Carl, worked at the magazine. "I was a kid, so I had a really good imagination. I would always just play pretend baseball games, and I would hit off that SoloHitter for sometimes three hours a day straight. I would never get tired of hitting."

That's continued to be the case for the left-handed hitter, who led the Southern Conference in hitting three years straight at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and ended his college there with a .406/.466/.571 slash line. Those results were hardly expected from somebody who as a high school player had been mostly ignored by every Division I program except the one where he ended up.

"Only offer I had," Moritz said. "My high school coach [Danny Hignight] at Providence High School [in Charlotte, North Carolina] said when he talked to the bigger programs in North Carolina, they said I didn't have enough big tools. They said my arm wasn't good enough, my 60 time wasn't fast enough. He said they basically were just trying to find ways, I guess, to not to want to sign me.

"UNCG saw me [for about] 40 games in summer ball and through the fall, and they kept sending me emails. I didn't know what UNCG was -- I'd never heard of it. I figured it was a D-II school the first time they sent me an email, but then I looked them up and saw it was D-I and I said, 'OK, this is a real possibility.' I got some emails from other schools, but most of them were, 'Well, come to our baseball camp and maybe we'll like you and give you a chance.' But the UNCG scouting guy sent me a personal email and said what he liked about my game. ... That was big to me in making my decision, that they really actually liked me and saw that I had potential to be a good college player."

Good is an understatement. Moritz hit .428 as a junior, second in all of D-I baseball to Niagara's Greg Cullen, who hit .458. The six homers he hit in 2018 were a career high after he had four combined in his freshman and sophomore seasons. That lack of power may have been the only thing that prevented Moritz from being a Day 1 pick in the Draft, said Braves area scout Billy Best, who followed and signed the 21-year-old outfielder.

"Maybe he doesn't hit a lot of balls out of the ballpark, but maybe if he did, he'd have gone in the first or second round," said Best, a former college assistant coach who's been scouting the Carolinas for the Braves for the past 17 years.

"Maybe he'll hit more home runs at the end of his career. Kyle Seager was a little like Andrew at North Carolina. He'd hit a bunch of doubles, but no home runs. Maybe it's the [Major League] baseball, maybe the hard maple bats. But I think he will hit home runs. That's the only thing he didn't do [at UNCG], but that's why we got him in the sixth round."

Modest beginnings

At 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Moritz wasn't blessed with extraordinary size or strength. Though his dad worked the NFL beat, he knew early on that football wasn't going to be his path.

"My mom didn't want me or my brothers to play football. In fact, my oldest brother, Eric, was signed up to play football in the sixth grade, and then all of a sudden, she did something where he had to get off the team. I don't know what it was," he said with a laugh.

"My dad was fine with us playing football, but I'm kind of glad she did [object]. My dad played basketball in high school, so he got us playing basketball and baseball. It was clear that baseball was the right path if we wanted a chance to keep playing college sports."

Moritz, however, had no inkling his sports aspirations would lead anywhere. In high school, he just wanted to have a shot to play college ball, even as a walk-on. He had played on talented travel ball teams in Charlotte and held his own, but it wasn't until after his sophomore year that he started to get noticed.

He got an invitation to play in the prestigious Perfect Game 17U tournament in East Cobb, Georgia, an event that typically attracts dozens of college recruiters, scouts and scouting directors.

Moritz saw for the first time the power and pull of those events.

"I performed there after my sophomore year and I think that was where UNCG took an interest in me," he said. "That was pretty much when it started. ... Our team made a really deep run in the tournament, and there was quite a few scouts there.

"And after my junior year, we went back there and there was a kid from Texas throwing 94 [mph], and there were 30-40 scouts there."

That's when Best -- who had coached at East Carolina, Auburn, Elon and North Carolina State -- got involved.

"Because I coached so long, I got to know the coaches well," he said. "I had been familiar with UNCG for a long time. I signed Max Povse [now with the Mariners] out of there and Ryan Clark [now with the Angels]. So when Link Jarrett got the [head coaching] job, I asked his assistant, Jerry Edwards, who used to be my associate scout, about Andrew because I didn't remember Andrew as a senior [in high school]."

Best was intrigued by the fluid left-handed swing on the youngster he calls "Mo," labeling his hitting ability a 60 on the 20-80 scout scale.

"I mean, even if you can't scout, you just look at what he's done statistically. I'm not sure anybody's done what he's done," Best said. "And it's not a small Division I school. I had a 60 on his bat and I talked to three scouts who are veterans and they all put a 60 on it. Now, 60s can vary depending on the club -- some 60s are a .280 hitter -- but I think [his best tool is] his bat."

The scout also praised Moritz's defense, calling him above average in center field and said he's a plus runner as well, but it was character that really sold him.

"From the standpoint of his makeup, the kind of kid he is, he was my favorite player in this Draft," Best said. "Such an even keel, he doesn't get too high or low. He's extremely intelligent. After what he did at Greensboro, it was an easy decision to pound the table for that kid. I know I feel very lucky to get Andrew."

Brave new world

Moritz spent his elementary school years in St. Louis, where The Sporting News was founded, and stayed there until his family relocated to Charlotte to follow the venerable magazine to its new home when the boy was 12.

"I was a Cardinals fan until last week," he said a week after the Draft.

It didn't take long for him to become enamored with the Braves organization, especially since his mom was rooting for Atlanta to draft him.

"My mom was really happy," he said. "Earlier, before I got drafted, one of the teams had called me and said they might draft me, and my mom started crying from that, but it wasn't because I might get drafted. It was because she didn't want me to play for them, she wanted me to play for the Braves.

"Then when I got drafted by them, she didn't cry because she was happy."

Moritz was bowled over by the Braves, especially when a particular voice came across his phone line after he was drafted.

"[Billy] said Bobby Cox wanted to talk to me, and I was kind of surprised by that. He congratulated me and said they were glad to have me," Moritz said. "I thanked him a lot, and that definitely made that draft day one of the best days of my life. That was incredible to get to talk to one of the best managers, maybe the best manager in the history of baseball."

Ahead of the Draft, the Braves had brought Moritz and other potential picks -- including one who was chosen by another team in the first round -- to SunTrust Park.

"When I was taking [batting practice], [the other player] was hitting bombs, and they told me 'Just do what you do, do my thing, hit line drives, play my own game, don't be intimidated.'

"But I don't worry about whatever else anybody's doing. I'm sure some people might try to hit some [long drives] too, but maybe that's when you get into some bad habits."

Moritz said Atlanta treated him and his father very well, and that he was starstruck by seeing Chipper Jones and other players on the field.

"That was amazing. I never even imagined I'd meet those guys and actually have real conversations with them," Moritz said. "I would have loved to get Chipper Jones' autograph, but considering the setting, I don't think I was in the right place to do that. I don't think it would have been the right thing to do, to pull out a baseball and ask him to sign it."

Next steps

After he was drafted, Moritz signed with the Braves for $242,500 (below the $282,000 slot value) and was assign to Rookie-level Danville of the Appalachian League. He was adjusting to life in the pros at a Draft minicamp in Orlando, Florida, and found himself awed by the talent.

"Yeah, a lot of these guys, I guess I can compare it to the Cape Cod League," he said. "Everybody is really talented. You see guys take nice, easy swings and the ball just jumps off their bat, then other guys are making throws that you've never seen before, like crazy throws like a shortstop throwing BBs from the hole.

"Other outfielders, they've got cannons [for arms]. It's a little different, just a lot of talent."

The minicamp has also prepared him for other aspects of pro ball, such as needing an interpreter to communicate with his teammates from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other countries.

The Braves haven't yet told him much about where he'll play in the outfield or where he'll bat in the lineup, or whether Danville will be his home for all of the summer. Not that he cares.

"I really don't know," he said. "I'm happy just to play pro ball and fulfill this dream of mine."

Vince Lara-Cinisomo is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @vincelara. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More