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You know how when there’s a guy, a young guy, who’s just raking at Triple-A? And you want to see how he can do when he gets called up to the majors? Will his numbers translate? Will he be able to hit a big-league curveball? Will he remain confident when he endures the inevitable slump?
Well, on a smaller scale, that happens on the independent level, too.
Case in point, Josh Horn. The 26-year-old Wingnuts shortstop has never played affiliated baseball, but he had a nice professional debut in 2007, when he batted .302 with Windy City of the Frontier League. He followed that up by batting .290 the next season for Windy City, which won the league title in 2008.
That got Horn “called up”, so to speak. He was signed by the Wingnuts of the more difficult American Association, where many wondered if he’d be able to produce similar numbers against tougher, more veteran pitchers. While not all of Horn’s numbers were as strong as those he posted in the Frontier League, he answered that question with a mostly resounding Yes.
Though Horn went 2 for 2 in his first game with Wichita, he then began a slump that saw his batting average drop to .237 after 16 games. How would Horn handle his first bout of hard luck in a tougher league? Pretty nicely, actually. Horn became one of the Wingnuts’ most consistent hitters during the rest of the season. By June 6, Horn’s average was above .300, and he had it above that benchmark pretty much the rest of the season. He briefly got his average above .350 before ending the season at .310.
Horn also had to deal with a position switch. He started the season at second base, where he had played most of his career, and Brenan Hererra was at shortstop. But Hererra dealt with nagging injuries much of the season, so to limit the strain on Hererra, manager Kevin Hooper swapped his middle infielders and Horn played the last three-fourths or so at shortstop. He took to the position immediately — his strong arm and good range helped him make a quick adjustment.
The only area in which Horn fell off from the previous two seasons was in his power numbers. He averaged 18 doubles and seven homers during his two seasons in the Frontier League, but last season he managed 12 doubles and three homers in a career-high 430 plate appearances. Horn has power, but as the Wingnuts’ leadoff hitter last season he opted to work deep into counts, shorten up his swing and hit line drives.
Horn will likely bat second this season, behind new addition Kennard Bibbs, so his offensive approach shouldn’t change. I expect him to hit more gaps and to exhibit similar plate discipline to his 2009 season, when he drew 45 walks and had a .393 on-base percentage. He’s a player in the same mold as Hooper, so we can be sure that Horn spent the offseason doing whatever he could to improve his game. Oh, and he’ll hopefully keep his grip on the bat more this season, too.
Season projection: 95 games, 377 at-bats, 125 hits, .332 average, 15 doubles, 2 triples, 5 home runs, .422 slugging percentage, 45 RBIs, 38 walks, 6 HBP, .401 on-base percentage, 62 runs, 15 steals.