For those of you who have followed this little blog for a while, you know that this annual list tends to be about upside.
Except for the tenth slot. It’s where I like to sneak in an under-the-radar guy. And this year, it’s the High A’s top prospect (as per MiLB.com), 1B Spencer Horwitz.
Horwitz and his Vancouver Canadians had the misfortune, from an Easterner’s point of view, of having to play their home games in beautiful Hillsboro, OR, ordinarily a scenic place to visit, but a black hole when it came to seeing the C’s on MiLB.tv. We just didn’t get a whole lot of looks at him.
And that’s just too bad, because as Horwitz, one of the most patient hitters in all of minor league baseball, had a second half for the ages (1.105 SLG from Aug 1st) this season. Horwitz fashioned a record hitting streak of 28 games in the former Northwest League, and finished the season at AA before heading off to join elite competition in the Arizona Fall League.
As Horwitz told Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star, after a dip in production in June and July (when, from a small sample of viewing, he didn’t seem to see a lot of strikes), Horwitz made some minor adjustments at the plate, and he went on an absolute tear. Horwitz hit .450 over the course of his streak, and then one game after the he went hitless for the first time in a month, found himself in New Hampshire, where he hit .375 and belted two round trippers in four games on the Fisher Cats final weekend.
Not only is Horwitz patient (only one other player in the system saw more pitches than he did), with a whiff rate of just over 6%, Horwitz makes consistent contact. The trick is, for a guy playing a position where power is expected, much of that contact up until August was of the ground ball variety.
But the changes Horwitz made seemed to help him be on time more with his bat. He has quick hands and a short, compact stroke from a slightly open stance to begin with, but the adjustments he made, along with an approach that seemed more aggressive (a viewing of his AA ABs showed him attacking fastballs early in the count) helped up his power production: 7 of his 12 home runs came in the last 35 games of the season. Horowitz uses the whole field, but can turn on an inside pitch as well as anyone. And even though New Hampshire has a short RF porch, this one was out in any ballpark:
Ben Badler of Baseball America had this to say about Horwitz:
I think he’s one of the more intriguing sleepers in the organization. Great plate discipline and he made some adjustments with his swing later in the season that led to harder contact, higher exit velos, more power later in the season. If you watch his swing from early in the season, he had his hands out away from his body when he started his swing. If you watch him now or saw him in August, he has his hands tighter into his body, it helps him hold a better position in his swing for longer, and he’s able to generate more quickness and power in his swing. Defensively, he’s very limited, and it’s the type of profile where you want to see it work against upper-level pitching before you buy in, but he’s definitely a quiet-ish, arrow-up type guy heading into 2022.
Why does Horwitz not get a lot of prospect love? You won’t find him on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Blue Jays list, and for a corner infielder without a lot of pop (to this point) from a small school drafted in the 24th round , guys like Horwitz don’t get the acclaim – or the chances – the higher picks get. But there’s plenty of athleticism there – Horwitz was a standout Maryland high school athlete, leading his school’s hockey team to two state titles.
2022 will be the real test for Horwitz. Will he continue to tap into his power like he did over the final six weeks of the season, or will he be more of a high contact/walk rate, lots of ground balls guy? Horwitz’ 28 doubles was the third-highest total in all of High A, and suggests some future power growth. At 23, he was a little old for High A this year, although COVID has laid waste to many development timetables. Call me old-fashioned, but there still is a lot to be said for a guy who puts the ball in play, and walked (70) more times than he struck out (68) this year.