STOCKTON, Calif. - Josh Horton was leaning against wall in the foyer that leads into the home clubhouse at Banner Island Park Friday afternoon discussing the virtues and drawbacks of both wooden and aluminum bats.
Part of the discussion moved toward power generated, or rather lack thereof, by both bats and Horton joked he was getting some abuse from his Stockton teammates about not having hit a home run this season. He did hit two last year after Oakland selected him in the second round out of North Carolina and did have 18 in three seasons with the Tar Heels. But, there was that big, old zero next to his name in the HR column of the statistic sheet.
"Everyone is busting my chops about hitting a homer," he said. "I have to start mixing some homers in. I guess I just don't fit the mold. I had seven one year and nine another at North Carolina. But they weren't tapem-easure shots, they were wall scrapers. I just want to hit the ball hard. They say home runs are a product of that so I'm trying to figure it out."
A few minutes later, Stockton hitting coach Tim Garland was standing next to the first-base dugout discussing Horton's lack of long-ball prowess and what could be done to fix it. He said that he is attempting to get Horton to use his lower body more, which will provide more torque and, in theory, more power.
"People will start to see him drive the ball more," Garland said. "He'll get his home runs. He won't have a goose egg up there at the end of the season."
Oh, how prophetic. It didn't take long for Garland's prediction to become a reality. A few hours after making that proclamation, he watched his young protégé connect for his first home run of the season. Horton took Lake Elsinore's Ernesto Frieri deep, ending his drought while extending his hitting streak to six games.
Horton would push that hitting streak to eight games with hits on Saturday and Sunday against the Storm. While he now has his homer, Garland doesn't think that's what makes Horton special.
"I just love everything about him," Garland said. "He's got great character, a great work ethic. He's a great all-around guy. Sure he hasn't been known for his power. He's all about defense and putting the bat on the ball. He's the best two-strike hitter on the team. There's no one better at putting the bat on the ball."
Horton had been struggling early and was hitting .258 as late as the end of April. But he's been hot since, hitting .317 in May and June to keep his season average above .300. He was out early Friday afternoon getting in extra work with Garland, afterwards saying that he simply wants to build on what he accomplished in the first half.
Based on how he was playing just before the All-Star break and the start he's gotten off since the Cal League season has resumed is an indication that continuing to play at that level or better shouldn't be much of a problem. Horton says he's healthy -- he had some minor leg and foot issues that were not really much to speak of earlier -- and focused.
That includes being focused on the task at hand. He split last season between short-season Vancouver and Kane County of the Midwest League but isn't thinking about moving up to Midland of the Texas League and having a repeat performance this year.
"That would be counterproductive," he said. "My mindset is to just play well here. I just want to keep trying to do what I can here."
As for the wood versus aluminum argument, it's almost a moot point. Horton seems to have made the transition smoothly and is pleased, even if he's probably not ever going to be a big home run hitter.
"Wood bats just allow you to be honest," he concluded. "If you have 270 hits in 1,000 at-bats with wood, then it's probably legitimate. Most times, if you just hit the ball hard with aluminum, something good is going to happen. With wood, what you see is what you get."
And it would seem that Oakland has gotten a gem in Horton.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.