My introduction to Mitch Horacek was in the Carolina League, when he faced the Myrtle Beach Pelicans a few times. A lefty starting pitcher in Advanced-A Ball at the time, he disappeared from my timeline, and universe, until overnight Friday, in this series of tweets:
Dear MLB clubs: I am a free agent and I want to play some baseball next year— Mitch Horacek (@mhoracek14) December 12, 2020
Thanks to the @Twins and their democratizing of my data, I was finally ENCOURAGED to throw fastballs up in the zone – EXCLUSIVELY
I have never pitched a season with this philosophy... 1/n
Instead, I’ve always been encouraged to throw my fastball down in the zone…you know – at the knees like everyone has always thought was a good place to throw them.— Mitch Horacek (@mhoracek14) December 12, 2020
Let’s see how that turned out for me...2/n pic.twitter.com/Bw128ULRNO
I’ve thrown some “well located” fastballs that got annihilated.— Mitch Horacek (@mhoracek14) December 12, 2020
What if I just threw fastballs UP in the zone and paired them with my slider down in the zone? Check it out…
(note: I’ve had FBs up get annihilated too, but not nearly as many). 3/n pic.twitter.com/HpPROOLwhp
I thought 2020 was going to be my chance to finally employ a pitching strategy that's conducive with my pitch physics.— Mitch Horacek (@mhoracek14) December 12, 2020
Obviously I cant guarantee this will work, but I would still like a chance to find out against some real hitters in some real games. 4/n
P.S. In the future, I hope that every baseball player can have access to their data, and coaches to help understand it to get better.— Mitch Horacek (@mhoracek14) December 12, 2020
That way they don't have to experience a .575 wOBA like I did... /end@PitchingNinja @BaseballCloudUS @Yakkertech
A ninth-round pick out of Dartmouth (he and Kyle Hendricks were teammates in 2011) by the Orioles in 2013, Horacek tossed three straight years for the Orioles' Carolina League affiliate. He eventually ended up with the Rockies, then the Twins in 2020. He is looking for a chance with an approach he's never used in a game with an actual box score.
Here's one of the many places I take the “road less traveled” regarding baseball. I'm far more fascinated by chatter about the Cubs acquiring Horacek than, say, re-signing Jon Lester. Yes, I know Lester will go down in Cubs annals as one of the team's best-ever signings. At some point, the past is the past. It's perfectly fine to say Lester was exactly what the team needed then, but a younger pitcher might be more desirable, now.
Roster spots in Mesa, whether on or off the 40-man roster, will be tight. Which player makes more sense? Lester, if brought in, could be a useful mentor to younger players. He might, or might not, have anything left in the tank. If Lester is brought in, he could be used as a sort of "purity test” by some. Give him his due respect for the last handful of seasons, or you're doing Cubs Fandom wrong. (I'm not saying that will be a prevalent opinion. Or yours. But it will be out there.) He might be able to summon his experience into another good season, or not. The discussion should be, is Lester worth giving starting-pitcher innings in Mesa, as opposed to spreading those innings out over Adbert Alzolay, Cory Abbott, Brailyn Marquez, and a mystery name or two? Questioning the likelihood of Lester's likely relevance in 2021 should be entirely about that, not whether he belongs on the Cubs Southpaw Mount Rushmore (great topic for below the bump).
Horacek is 29 and has never pitched a single MLB inning. Whether he would require a 40-man spot is up for debate, but I'd guess not. My hunch is, a reasonable minor-league signing bonus (less than $20,000?) might be enough to get Horacek a look in Cubs spring training. Fresh from the Twins trying new approaches with him (the Twins being a stealthily smart front office), Horacek seems a willing student for a team's Pitch Lab, especially since he's taken to Twitter to self-advertise. From Dartmouth, he's likely smart. If so, he could be a front-office type in the future. And, if it works, the Cubs have his rights until late in the decade.
Some of being an astute front office is getting the big moves right. Some of front office contribution is finding the "what the heck?" moves, whether expected to cash or not, and hitting on them, occasionally. I'm perfectly willing to admit Horacek is a longshot. On a minor-league deal, and with years to collect if it pans out, chatter on signing relative unknowns like Horacek fascinate me more than Lester chatter. If your research says Horacek won't pan out? Fine. Contrarily, opposing a signing over lack of familiarity in a player seems absurd. How familiar were you with Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, or Kris Bryant when the Cubs first acquired them? Or Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop, who came directly from Baltimore?