Photo credit:© Isaiah J. Downing - USA Today
Adding a designated hitter would put Blue Jays prospect Spencer Horwitz in a tough spot for Opening Day
1 month ago
Last season, the Toronto Blue Jays had five position players get their first taste of big league action, one of which was Spencer Horwitz, a product of the 2019 MLB Draft via the 24th round.
When Brandon Belt went to the IL in mid-June with hamstring tightness earlier this year, the Jays called on Horwitz from triple-A, as the lefty-batter was hitting for a .300 average and owned a .421 OPS as a mainstay on the Bisons roster. He made his big league debut in Texas, slotting in as the DH in the last game of the series opposite right-hander Jon Gray. In his first at-bat, Horwitz got the first Major League hit out of the way, driving a fastball through the right side of the infield for a single. This would be followed up with his first RBI, which came in the third inning when he mustered a slow dribbler up the right side off reliever John King and scored Daulton Varsho from third base, giving the Jays a 6-0 lead (they eventually lost 11-7).
This stint lasted just three games before Horwitz was moved back to Buffalo when Belt came back off the IL, with the Radford University product returning to the big league squad in September when the rosters expanded. He stayed for most of September, eventually being optioned back with Cam Eden on the roster and Belt once again coming back from another IL stint. For the year, Horwitz finished with a .256/.341/.385 slash line through 15 games and 39 at-bats with the Jays, working mostly in a bench/pinch hitter capacity. The Maryland product authored a .726 OPS through the small sample size and crossed off another first during his second stint, crushing a Chase Anderson inside fastball into the Colorado Rockies bullpen to tie the game in the fourth inning.
The potential impact of free agent signings on Blue Jays prospect Spencer Horwitz
Just like Belt, Horwitz features as a 1B/DH type, as the 26-year-old has spent most of his minor league career on the right side of the diamond with a few stints in left field as well, suiting up 24 times in the corner outfield spot for the Bisons last year. At first base, Horwitz boasts a .995 fielding percentage through 2118 innings across different levels in the minors, only recently starting to work as a DH last year with both Buffalo and Toronto.
Heading into the 2024 season, Horwitz will be one of the handful of infield prospects looking to secure a spot on the Opening Day roster. With the recent departures of Belt, Matt Chapman, and Whit Merrifield and the recent additions of Kevin Kiermaier and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, there appears to be limited space on the Blue Jays infield and bench heading into next season for the number of players looking to make a more permanent jump. Kiner-Falefa, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, Cavan Biggio, and Santiago Espinal appear to be ‘locks’ heading into the new season and along with the outfield core three (and a max of 13 pitchers and 13 position players on the roster), there appear to be just three spots up for grabs and that’s not including any potential free agency additions.
After the Blue Jays put up middle-of-the-pack collective numbers offensively last season, the front office has made it apparent that the club needs at least another bat to compliment the lineup, especially with the departures of Chapman and Belt to free agency. While the likes of Guerrero Jr., Kirk, and Springer did not put up strong offensive numbers last season, the club is expecting the bats to regain form this upcoming year which will hopefully be aided by the addition of at least one bat this offseason and the numerous additional coaches being brought in to assist with the development. Considering there are numerous free agents who fit the bill of what the Jays need (Jorge Soler, Rhys Hoskins, J.D. Martinez, Carlos Santana, Joc Pederson, and Cody Bellinger if Ross Atkins wants to spend big), any player who takes a spot on the roster is another spot gone for internal players barring a trade or DFA.
Projection-wise, Davis Schneider likely has an inside track to at least one of the spots (should the Jays only sign one bat this winter) and that leaves just one remaining for a group that includes Horwitz, Eden, Ernie Clement, Nathan Lukes, Addison Barger, Otto Lopez, and Orelvis Martinez, a dense group made up of mostly infielder types outside of Lukes. This also doesn’t include dark horse candidates such as Damiano Palmegiani and Rafael Lantigua, who could turn some heads with their bats after the Blue Jays struggled to produce last year. There are pros and cons to each player listed above, which is an article in its own right, but it should be interesting to note as well that Lopez is out of minor league options and must break camp with the Jays or be DFA’d off the 40-man (per FanGraphs).
Should the Jays sign a 1B/DH type (think Hoskins or Santana), Horwitz would be on the outside looking in unless the club is confident in his corner outfield abilities, which have been on display but limited compared to his experience on the infield, or they are ok with having multiple players who can rotate between first base and the DH role. It is well known that Horwitz can swing the bat, as the small sample size produced a 37.0 hard hit percentage (just above league average) and sweet spot percentage (3.9% above league average) while he also produced 30 doubles in triple-A with 72 RBIs and walked more than he struck out (78 vs 72). Another benefit is Horwitz swings from the left side, something the Jays lack in their current lineup outside of Varsho, Biggio, and Kiermaier although Lukes and Barger also feature from the left side of the batter’s box as well. Horwitz mashed righty-pitchers last year in Buffalo (.368/.490/.556 slash line and 1.046 OPS) which helps his case for the bench in a pinch-hitter role.
Looking ahead, unless the Jays fill out the remaining active roster spots with free-agent signings (which doesn’t seem likely given Atkins’ recent comments), there will be some competition for a bench spot or two this spring.
Horwitz produced with the Jays off the bench last season in a limited role and could find himself in the same spot to begin the 2024 season as well but he could be in tough waters if the Blue Jays add some firepower this offseason to take some reps at either first base or in the DH spot (similar to Belt last year). Only time will tell with free agency still moving at a snail’s pace and multiple candidates fitting what the Jays need heading into the new season but Spencer Horwitz will be one to watch next year, in that even if he doesn’t break camp with the Blue Jays, he should find himself in the big leagues at some point in the campaign if the current trend at the plate holds up (although I think his bat takes him to Toronto to start the year).
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