Jeremy Horst emerged from an obscure 21st round draft pick out of Armstrong Atlantic University to become one of the top pitchers in the Midwest League with the Dragons in 2008. From there, he faced some challenging days in 2009 but finished with the fourth best earned run average among all starting pitchers in the Reds organization and the seventh best ERA in the Florida State League with Sarasota at 3.25.
Unfortunately, Horst's won-loss record did not bear the fruit of his success as the Sarasota team offered little run support, finishing last in the league in team batting at .231 and finishing a distant last in the league in runs scored as a team. Horst's 6-13 record at Sarasota kept him under the radar in terms of attention among Reds pitching prospects. Horst allowed two runs or less in 12 of his 23 starts and one earned run or less in nine of the 23, but he was rewarded with just six wins.
With the Dragons in 2008, Horst began the season as a reliever but pitched well enough to eventually move into the team's starting rotation. He finished with an 8-2 record and an outstanding ERA of 2.38. In his 10 starts, he was 5-0, 1.64. He also enjoyed a tremendous performance in a playoff win over Lansing at Fifth Third Field in front of Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty.
Dragons broadcaster Tom Nichols talked with Horst about his 2009 season and his year in Dayton. Here is a partial transcript of the interview (click the link above to listen):
Q: It was an interesting year in 2009 with Sarasota and Carolina. Not much offensive support but a good ERA. How did you feel about the season in terms of what you wanted to accomplish?
JH: I felt great. Starting in the Florida State League was good. It took a lot of focus to go out there and try to control only the things I could. I just focused on every start, trying to put my team in a position to win and that's all I could do. As far as moving up to Double-A, it was a great experience. The games definitely moved a lot faster up there. It was kind of a wake up call to see, and say, "this is a level I want to be at and this is definitely a place I want to play starting next year." Also I was happy that I was able to stay healthy and throw 160 plus innings and get my first taste at going over the 150 inning mark and next year hopefully I can throw more innings.
Q: With the team struggling to score, even though the wins were not coming for you, did you have to remind yourself to just do your own job each start?
JH: Definitely, one of the things as a starting pitcher, you get tagged with that win or loss and it is one of those things where if you let it build up on you, it can frustrate you and keep you down and prevent you from progressing and going out there and having a positive attitude. It can get you down and there were a couple of bumps in there along the season. (Pitching coach) Tom Brown took me aside and we had a talk about getting back to basics and focusing on bullpens (throwing between starts) and going out there pitch by pitch and controlling what I can do, and he helped me out a lot.
Q: With the move to Double-A, there is an adjustment to make at every level. Pitches you may get away with at one level will be hit at the next. Did you learn something from the time with Carolina?
JH: Definitely, it was one of those things where my call-up came late in the year, and all year long I had been building it up as something that I really wanted, to play at that competition level. I just built it up so much in my head that when I got there, it was a definite wake up call. You can't give those hitters too much credit but at the same time you definitely have to be on top of your game. Gotta be able to mix your pitches up well and definitely, you have to pitch differently. Attack hitters with a game plan. So yes, I was happy with the way I finished up and I finally was getting a grasp for it. Not giving the competition too much credit but also giving them enough respect. They can definitely hurt you if you are not on top of your game.
Q: We remember your great change-up that was almost impossible for right-handed hitters to hit. But you were trying to develop a better breaking ball that would be tough on lefties. How is that coming along?
JH: My slider came along great at the end of the year. I was able to locate it for strikes when I wanted to and the improvement on my slider made my change-up that much better because I could show slider to a lefty and if I got deeper in the count, I could throw my change-up to left-handed hitters, which messed up their timing quite a bit. I am really happy with where it's at. I am still working on it now in the off-season but being able to have it as a go-to pitch makes my change-up even more effective. Hopefully I can make it (the slider) even better and show up to spring training and surprise my coaching staff.
Q: You look at the top four starting pitchers in the Reds organization as far as ERA in 2009, they are all left-handed (Travis Wood, Matt Maloney, Matt Fairel, and you). It is a formula that has worked.
JH: I got the privilege to watch each of those guys throw. I got to play with all three of them briefly. We all have a little bit different styles. Travis Wood has really worked on a two-seamer, cutting the ball a little, getting movement on his fastball, and he is amazing to watch. Same thing with Maloney. He goes right after guys. It is a privilege to watch those guys throw and see how they work and see all the different ways that, as left-handers, we can approach hitters and keep guys off balance.
Q: We will close it out with some talk about your time with the Dragons. It was a great year for you. Maybe my favorite game since I have been with the Dragons was the playoff game in front of Walt Jocketty and the fan reaction. Eight thousand fans gave you a standing ovation when you walked off the mound and I am sure that is a game you will remember.
JH: Absolutely. My whole season there in Dayton was unbelievable. The treatment of the players was first class. That game particularly was unique for me. I don't have a camera out in the middle of the field so I only have the memories that only I could have and going back and thinking about it, I still get goose bumps and butterflies from time to time. It was incredible.
TN: Best of luck in 2010 and beyond. Hopefully we will see you in the big leagues not too far down the road.
JH: Thanks a lot Tom.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.