Spencer Horwitz did not play baseball in a major conference.

He was not a high draft pick.

But he has made a smooth transition to pro ball.

The former Radford University first baseman now plays for the Bluefield Blue Jays. He entered Sunday leading the Appalachian League in RBIs (40) and tied for the league lead in hits (54).

Horwitz, who was chosen by Toronto in the 24th round of the 40-round Major League Baseball draft in June, also ranks fifth in the league in batting (.321) and is tied for third in doubles (15).

“This just shows my competitive nature,” Horwitz said in an interview at a Danville motel before a recent road game. “I don’t like doing poorly.”

His batting average is especially impressive considering he hit just .268 for Radford this year.

“[In pro ball, I’m] getting pitches I’m able to handle and not trying to do too much,” Horwitz said. “I definitely got pitched different in college — being an all-conference guy and a [potential] draft guy, people know who you are [in college].

“Being a 24th-round pick here, people kind of overlook you.”

He is used to being overlooked.

“I definitely felt kind of like an underdog coming in here [to pro ball],” he said. “I had that mindset my whole baseball career, not being a highly recruited player out of high school.

“I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder. It just makes me better.”

Undersized, underrecruited

The 5-foot-11 Horwitz, a Maryland native, verbally committed to Radford in 2015 during the summer before his senior year of high school. Radford offered him only a 25-percent scholarship. But his only other Division I offer was from Mount St. Mary’s.

Horwitz was recruited as a catcher, but Radford coach Joe Raccuia moved him to first base during fall practice when Horwitz was a freshman.

“There’s not that many 5-11 first basemen out there,” Horwitz said. “[But] I think my bat will play at any level.”

Horwitz weighed just 178 pounds when he enrolled at Radford but is now up to 195 pounds.

He did not only work hard in the weight room.

“Being in the [batting] cages by myself [helped], … going in there after practice, before practice, late at night, just figuring out what works for me the best,” he said.

Horwitz batted a team-high .311 for Radford in 2017, earning Freshman All-America honors.

“[Had] to prove myself that, ‘Hey, I belong here,’” he said.

Radford won the Big South tournament that year to claim just the second NCAA tournament berth in its history. Horwitz made the Big South’s all-tournament team.

“That week in the Big South tournament was the most fun in baseball that I’d ever had,” he said. “It was unbelievable, the camaraderie and excitement we played with.”

The following season, Horwitz hit .288 and led Radford in hits (63), RBIs (43) and doubles (13). He made the All-Big South second team for the second straight year.

Horwitz spent last summer playing in the Cape Cod League, the most prestigious NCAA-sanctioned summer circuit. He hit .279 in the wooden-bat league, catching the attention of Toronto scouts.

“Last summer proved to me and everyone that I could hang with the big boys,” Horwitz said. “At the Cape you’re seeing 91, 92 [mph pitching] every night. Coming from a school like Radford, that’s people’s biggest question — can you play with the ACC, the SEC [talent]?

“Going to the Cape, talking to guys [there], they’re asking for $1 million in the draft. I’m just asking to get drafted.”

Horwitz walked a team-high 45 times as a Radford junior this year. He had 10 homers and 41 RBIs, but his average dipped to .268.

“I wasn’t getting many pitches to hit, so I was getting myself out a lot, trying to be too aggressive and not just take my walks,” he said.

Toronto scout Coulson Barbiche was still impressed.

“He has a good knowledge of the strike zone. He doesn’t swing and miss a lot,” said Barbiche, who eyed Horwitz at Radford this year. “He has a good swing and has the ability to use the entire baseball field.

“He’s not going to give away an at-bat. He’s going to make the pitcher work.”

Pro rookie

When Horwitz was drafted by Toronto in June, he phoned his mother with the good news. She wept with joy.

Horwitz opted to turn pro and bypass his senior season. He reaped a $100,000 signing bonus from Toronto.

“Radford was a great place. Can’t thank the coaching staff enough for a great three years, to let me live out a dream of playing Division I baseball,” he said. “But this is another dream that I have, playing pro ball.”

Horwitz mostly plays first base for the Blue Jays, but he has also seen some action in left field.

The Appalachian League is a rookie league, the lowest rung on the minor-league ladder. But Horwitz said he is still seeing harder-throwing pitchers than he saw in the Big South.

Nevertheless, he has shined at the plate this summer.

“Coming here, I was surprised how many hittable pitches I was getting,” Horwitz said. “It’s starting to change a little bit, now that I’ve proven myself, but it’s still more than I saw in college.”

Bluefield manager Luis Hurtado said Horwitz’s success stems from his approach at batting practice.

“He’s always trying to, for one or two rounds, hit the ball to the opposite way,” Hurtado said. “In the game, it translates really well.”

Horwitz, a finance major, plans to return to Radford for the fall semester to continue working towards his bachelor’s degree.

He has been enjoying his summer in Bluefield.

“It kind of feels like Radford — in the mountains, small town,” he said.

And he certainly has been enjoying pro ball.

“It’s been a pretty easy adjustment,” he said.

Mark Berman covers Virginia Tech men’s basketball and many other teams at the university. He also helps cover other colleges, including Radford, VMI, Roanoke, Washington and Lee and Ferrum.

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