As a freshman at Radford University, Spencer Horwitz never envisioned himself playing baseball for a living. But thanks to his hard work and surrounding himself with the right people, that’s exactly where he ended up.
Horwitz recently finished his second minor league season playing in the Toronto Blue Jays system after the Major League Baseball organization selected him in the 24th round of the 2019 MLB Draft following a stellar three-year career with the Highlanders.
A native of Timonium, Md., he attended St. Paul’s School where he was first and foremost a catcher. Although Horwitz felt he was playing really well in high school, he found it difficult to gain notice on the recruiting trail.
“It was very slow,” Horwitz recalled of his recruitment process. “A lot of my teammates were committing to big schools. I ended up with two college offers: Mount St. Mary’s and Radford. I visited Radford, got the offer, and committed right away.”
For most young players, the transition from high school to college is a difficult one. Playing time can be hard to come by, making it difficult to establish a hitting routine against far superior pitching. But it wasn’t the case for Horwitz, who burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2017, hitting a team-best .311 with 34 RBI in 57 games. His efforts earned him a Big South Conference Second-Team selection and a spot on the Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American team.
“I’ve been a hitter, that’s what I do,” Horwitz said. “As soon as I got to campus, I was doing early work, working at night.”
The power-hitting lefty certainly made the most of the opportunity he was given. Because Radford had five catchers on the roster and no first basemen, the coaches moved Horwitz to first where he started all but one game that season. The change earned him more chances to get into the lineup and, in turn, get more acclimated to the game.
“Once I got that first hit out of the way, I was more comfortable,” Horwitz noted. “I felt like I could do this. I had great coaches, and they helped me not just physically but mentally. The guys around me took the pressure off and that made it fun.”
Over the next two years, Horwitz started 112 games, and when it was all said and done, he had accumulated 25 home runs, 118 RBI, and a .288 batting average in a Highlander uniform. His performance garnered attention from minor league scouts, but playing at the next level was still far from a guarantee.
“Pro ball wasn’t in my plans until the summer after my sophomore year,” Horwitz said. “I played in the Cape Cod League, held my own against pretty good competition, and got some recognition. I was talking to my advisor at the time, and he said, ‘Here’s a few teams that like you the most.’ Eventually the Toronto Blue Jays came calling, and it seemed like a perfect fit. It’s worked out well so far.”
The Blue Jays took Horwitz with the 717th overall pick in the draft. He started out in the Rookie Appalachian League with the Bluefield Blue Jays, and his stellar play earned him a late-August promotion to the Jays’ Low-A affiliate in Vancouver. Though Horwitz played just nine games with the Canadians, the club and city certainly left an impression on him.
“It’s an unbelievable city and the fans are great,” he said of Vancouver. “I wish I could go back.”
Unfortunately, Horwitz never got that chance to go back. The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the entirety of the 2020 Minor League Baseball season, sending shock waves throughout the sport.
“I was down in spring training, and they sent us home,” he said. “At first they said it’s probably just for a week or two. Then it turned into a month or two, then to the All-Star break, and before we knew it the whole season was gone.”
If nothing else, the pandemic forced players like Horwitz to find creative ways to stay in shape.
“I had a small at-home gym that I used,” he said. “Looking back, it helped me a lot in preparing for the 2021 season. I was prepared just as well if not better than anyone else.”
Horwitz finally returned to the Canadians this past spring, though due to border restrictions the team was forced to play its games in Hillsboro, Ore. For most of the year, he was mired in a slump, hitting as low as .235 in August. But Horwitz then reeled off a remarkable 28-game hitting streak, breaking the Northwest/High-A West League record in the process.
That performance earned him a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire, and he was named the MVP of the Northwest League once the season came to an end. Much like the shift from high school to college, the grind of a minor league season can take its toll on even the best hitters, but Horwitz’s success is a case study in hard work and perseverance.
“You go from playing Friday-Saturday-Sunday-Tuesday to playing every day,” Horwitz said of the shift from college to pro ball. “It’s more just the day-to-day grind and finding a routine that works for you.”
Horwitz is one of numerous Highlanders playing in the minor leagues, including former teammate J.D. Mundy, who was signed in 2020 by the Baltimore Orioles organization. A product of Roanoke, Mundy earned a pair of promotions as well, finishing the season at Double-A Bowie and accumulating a stat line of 15 home runs, 57 runs batted in, a .291 batting average, and a .390 on-base percentage.
Like many other players, Horwitz treasures the relationships that baseball builds more than anything else.
“The best part about baseball is getting to meet people—the relationships that develop in the dugout, on the bus rides—that’s what my friends who are out of baseball say they miss the mos,” Horwitz said.”
Though he is well removed from his playing days in Radford, Horwitz still has fond memories of the school that gave him a chance to showcase his potential.
“I owe Radford so much,” Horwitz said. “I only had one other offer, and I was lucky enough to have them give me a chance. I definitely couldn’t have done it without Radford. It helped me enhance my skill set as a hitter and a man.”