Digging into the batter’s box for this edition of C’s Chat is 2019 Vancouver Canadians first baseman Spencer Horwitz.
The Timonium, Maryland native made a good first impression on the Toronto Blue Jays organization in his first professional season by hitting well over .300 in Bluefield before a late-season cameo with Vancouver.
Another thing that should endear Horwitz to the Blue Jays faithful and Canadians in general is his hockey background as he was a defenceman with St. Paul’s High School in Maryland.
“I picked up hockey in middle school. I fell in love with it. That was so much fun. Being able to hit people is just a great experience. It’s a good break from baseball, just a little different.
I got to play four years on varsity in my high school and won two state championships there so that was exciting. Scoring a goal in our state championship for the game winner was also one of my awesome athletic (highlights).”
A physical player who could shoot the puck was the way Horwitz described himself as a hockey player.
“I had a good slap shot and I tried to hit people as hard as I could. I wasn’t the best with the puck but the coach knew that I would do everything I could to win.”
In the end, hitting baseballs on the diamond won out over hitting opposing forwards on the ice.
“From day one, it’s always been baseball but hockey was a great experience where I learned a lot about new people and different sports so it was exciting. It took me all over the country as well so that was fun.”
The 5-foot-11 Horwitz may no longer by strap on the blades but he remains a fan of the game by cheering for his favourite NHL team and player.
“I was a Capitals fan always and they just won a Stanley Cup two years ago and so that was awesome to see. I was happy for (Alexander) Ovechkin that he finally got it and to get that monkey off his back.”
Spencer for Hire
Coming into the 2019 season, Horwitz was rated by Baseball America as the number four prospect in the MLB draft from the Big South Conference after his first two seasons with the Radford Highlanders. After belting 10 home runs and posting a .857 on-base-plus percentage in his junior year, the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him in the 24th round of the 2019 MLB Draft. Horwitz says he was trying to keep his mind on other things on the day he was taken.
“I was actually at my best friend’s house. I was just trying to stay busy all day. I was watching the draft and it was getting late and I was starting to get nervous but then finally my (advisor) called with the news. It was just an unbelievable feeling that I got to be a part of such a great organization.”
Other teams were interested in Horwitz but going to Canada’s Team took him by surprise.
“The Blue Jays were not like top three when we were going into it but they were definitely interested. We were talking to them but yeah, I was somewhat surprised when they called.”
After getting the call from his signing scout Coulson Barbiche Jr., Horwitz did get to celebrate the moment with his family and friends.
“I went and hung out with my family. We went out to dinner. It was awesome. I got to hang out with my friends and then two days later, I was on a plane to Florida.”
Radford & Reavis
Recruited as a catcher from Radford University, Horwitz was named a Big South Conference Second Team All-Star in his freshman and sophomore seasons before receiving an honourable mention in his junior campaign. His freshman year of 2017 jumps out when the Highlanders reached the NCAA Tournament as the lone Big South representative.
“We went to Louisville’s Regional and just that week in the Conference Tournament. Just the camaraderie that we had. It was an unbelievable experience just playing with those guys and becoming so close. For the next two years, just building those relationships and that’s what I’ll remember the most.”
The Highlanders coaching staff had a Vancouver connection during Horwitz’s three-year stay in 2015-2016 C’s catcher Josh Reavis.
“He was the volunteer (coach) and then he got promoted to hitting coach and he’s still there as the hitting coach. ‘Reav’ was a great coach for me. Just a great guy that I could just connect with and bounce ideas off of where we would just play with things and figure out what was working best for me.”
Agreeing to a $100,000 signing bonus, Horwitz headed to Dunedin, Florida to begin life as a professional baseball player.
“It was definitely eye-opening when I’m walking through the clubhouse and I’m seeing Clay Buchholz, a World Series champion. That was kind of like my ‘Whoa!’ moment right there. I was like, ‘This guy. I saw him play on TV for multiple years.’ But yeah, it was awesome meeting the guys and being around such great people down there.”
The first stop in Horwitz’s career was just over 50 miles west from Radford, Bluefield, West Virginia. After going hitless in his first game, Horwitz rattled off an eight-game hitting streak with the Bluefield Blue Jays. That stretch included his first professional home run against the Danville Braves June 27 as part of a four-hit night.
In total, Horwitz had 22 multi-hit games and finished third in the Appalachian League in both batting average (.330) and runs batted in (49) and second in doubles (18). His .866 OPS left him sixth in the circuit. Those totals helped Horwitz land a spot on the Appalachian League Post-Season All-Star Team. He attributed his success to working well with Bluefield’s hitting coach Paul Elliott.
“He did a great job of keeping it simple for me. Just letting me control what I can control and teaching me how to become a professional and just slowly working on my routine day by day.”
Though the Bluefield Blue Jays did not make the Appalachian League playoffs, they did win the Mercer Cup against their archrival Princeton Rays. The Bluef-Jays rallied from a 6-1 deficit with Horwitz singling home the tying run in the eighth before taking the lead for good in the ninth.
“We had an 11-game series with them and it came down to the last game. I got to contribute and it was awesome celebrating with the guys going back to Bluefield, hanging out with them, getting the Cup and just seeing everyone rally together. It was awesome… The fans there are definitely passionate about their two teams and them being so close, it definitely makes it interesting.”
More good news was in store for Horwitz after the Mercer Cup clincher in the form of a promotion to Vancouver, something that took him by surprise.
“I really had no idea but right after we won the Mercer Cup, (Bluefield manager Luis) Hurtado called me into his office and said, ‘Hey, you did a good job here this summer. I really appreciated you and Vancouver wants you up there to try to make the playoff push.’ And that’s why I’m here.”
Welcome to YVR
The news of Horwitz’s promotion to Vancouver made its way to his former hitting coach at Radford Josh Reavis who provided a good scouting report of what to expect in Vancouver.
“We’ve talked about this place a lot actually because I was always trying to pick his brain and trying to get his experiences. He talks about his home run that he hit here and how that was the coolest moment of his career. I really understood that when I hit mine. He texted me when he found out I was coming here and he said, ‘Just really enjoy it. It’s going to be an awesome experience.’ And now I know why he said that.”
That home run by Horwitz was his first hit as a Vancouver Canadian. His two run-poke over the left field porch against Salem-Keizer pitcher Conner Nurse punctuated a six-run fourth inning in a win over the Volcanoes August 25.
“I got into a nice 3-1 count and I knew I was getting a pitch to hit so luckily I just got the bat head there and it carried out to left… I knew it had a chance. I knew I hit it pretty well but yeah, I wasn’t completely sure… It was a cool feeling hearing those fans, definitely a relief off my shoulders to get that first hit here. Yeah, it was exciting.”
Savouring that moment was something Horwitz tried to do.
“When I touched second, I took a second to look around. I was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool!’ Being up here with all those fans cheering for me, it was exciting for sure… The Appy League is a great league and great competition but the fans here (in Vancouver) have been unbelievable. Just the atmosphere, it’s not just about the baseball. They’re here for entertainment. It’s really a cool experience.”
The home run ball was returned to Horwitz.
“I do have the home run. I’m definitely going to give it to my family.”
Even though he homered in just his second game north of the border, Horwitz noticed right away how different the Nat is from Bowen Field in Bluefield.
“(Bowen Field) was definitely a hitter’s park compared to this. Hitting (in Vancouver) just the few days I’ve been here, I’ve noticed it takes something to get one out of here. In Bluefield, the ball carried a bit differently up in those mountains.”
In the Batter’s Box
When stepping up to the plate, Horwitz tries to keep things simple.
“I just try to hit a ball hard. Get a good pitch to hit, try to swing in the zone, stay within myself and see what I can do.”
One strength of Horwitz’s offensive game is his on-base percentage, with marks of .384, .386 and .392 during his three years in Radford and .395 during his 51 games in Bluefield.
“I just think that’s part of (my) competitive nature and just understanding the strike zone.”
Working in the batting cage is when Horwitz focuses on his mechanics.
“In the cages, I definitely work on like just getting my front foot down, keeping my shoulders square to the pitcher but once I’m in the (batter’s box), I’m not thinking about anything mechanical. I just think about hitting that ball.”
A belief in his overall game highlights the personal scouting report for Horwitz.
“I would say I’m a competitor. One who’s solid (defensively) who is versatile. I can play first base and the outfield. At the plate, I can hit to all fields.”
Horwitz’s path to baseball began at a very early age.
“It actually started from when I was born. My first word was ‘ball.’ So yeah, that’s the story my Mom tells. From then, she knew that I could always throw. I had a good arm when I was little and she said I just loved throwing the ball and just chasing after it (laughs) when I was little. So yeah, it was kind of from the start.”
Helping guide him along the baseball path was Spencer’s brother Ben Horwitz.
“Definitely my brother, first and foremost. He pushes my every day through countless amounts of BP to me on the high school field. He really helped me to not only become a great baseball player but a person and just a better competitor. Just always being that little brother and always having a chip on my shoulder has always helped me.”
Describing himself as a “big Orioles fan growing up but I’m a Blue Jays fan now,” Horwitz enjoyed keeping tabs on the O’s during the Manny Machado era.
“When Manny first came up, that was exciting. Just when the Orioles—because they were so bad for so long when I was growing up—and just being able to see Manny come in. Him and Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz just have a winning season. Nick Markakis, that 2010 to 2014 time was really cool to watch.”
The Washington Wizards and Baltimore Ravens round out Horwitz’s other favourite professional sports teams.
Preparing for 2020
When asked what the biggest takeaway was from his first professional season, Horwitz says the Blue Jays brass impress the importance of preparation on all its players.
“Really building those routines I think because even through the highs and lows, you got that routine to fall back on. That’s what the Blue Jays and all the coaching staff have really been harping on. They want us to find those routines that work for us. Even when things are going bad, we’d know what we need to work on.”
Horwitz—who celebrated his 22nd birthday November 14—is hoping to climb the next step up the Blue Jays minor league ladder to Lansing, Michigan.
Thanks a million to Spencer Horwitz for joining C’s Plus Baseball in this latest episode of C’s Chat. You can find him on Twitter @SPENCE_b_shakin. Another million thanks to Canadians Media Relations Assistant Jordy Cunningham for setting up the interview.