The 2008 season for the Dayton Dragons provided a prime example of how a player can transform from being just another face in the crowd into a future big leaguer, right before your very eyes. The player was left-handed pitcher Jeremy Horst, who skyrocketed from an unsung middle reliever from a school that most fans had never heard of into the best starting pitcher in the Midwest League, all in one season. And eventually, he became the 48th Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues.
Horst grew up in North Dakota and enrolled at Iowa Western Community College before transferring to Armstrong Atlantic State University, a Division II program that has enjoyed great success but had produced only one previous Major League player. Horst was scouted at Armstrong Atlantic by Jason Baker of the Reds. Baker, ironically, would later serve as a coach for the Dragons for part of the 2010 season. The Reds drafted Horst in the 21st round in 2007 and he joined the Dragons in '08 after a season at Billings.
Horst began the 2008 season in the Dayton bullpen, one of seven relievers splitting any available innings that would come their way. He earned his first win in his third outing, firing four near-perfect innings of scoreless baseball against Fort Wayne. Over his first six appearances with the Dragons, Horst allowed just one run in 14 and two-thirds innings. His earned run average stood at 0.61. But the next two outings took a heavy toll on his ERA as he allowed six runs over one full inning to push the mark to 4.02. Another shaky appearance in May upped his ERA to 4.40 entering June, and there was little indication of what was to come from the friendly southpaw.
But Horst suddenly began to effectively utilize a tantalizing change-up that was almost unhittable for right-handed batters. His fastball was not overpowering, averaging 87-90 mph. But the change-up was so deceptive that he could throw it time after time, even to the same hitter in the same at-bat, and rack up the strikeouts. He would not lose another game over the remainder of the regular season.
Horst gave up just two runs in the entire month of June covering 18 innings, striking out 26 and walking only three. As July began, the Dragons found themselves in need of a starting pitcher, and Horst got the call. In his first start on July 3 at Great Lakes, he tossed four no-hit innings before reaching his pitch limit. He struck out five. His next start was a home game against West Michigan and he responded with five strong innings, allowing just one run on a solo home run and striking out seven to earn the win. The Dragons, meanwhile, were red hot, moving towards first place in the East Division.
On July 21, Horst made another near-perfect start at Clinton, throwing five shutout innings, allowing only one hit, and striking out six to earn another win. The Lumber Kings hitters simply had no chance against Horst's change-up that produced one swing-and-miss after another.
Horst was sensational throughout August as well, allowing a total of four earned runs in five starts, going 2-0. From June 1 through the end of the season, Horst went 7-0 and allowed a grand total of 12 earned runs, posting an out-of-sight ERA of 1.51 covering 10 starts and 10 relief appearances. No Midwest League pitcher was more dominant. His final record with the Dragons was 8-2 with a 2.38 ERA. He struck out 110 batters in 102 innings. Right-handed batters combined to hit just .185 against him for the year. When teams did get runners in scoring position against Horst, he was consistently able to make pitches to get himself out of trouble. Over the entire season, in those clutch situations with two outs and men in scoring position, Horst allowed an opponents' batting average of .146.
But Horst's time with the Dragons was not over when the final regular season game was played. Dayton was headed to the playoffs to battle Lansing, and Horst was given the assignment of game one starter. With Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty watching from the stands at Fifth Third Field, Horst was brilliant. He did not allow a hit until the fifth inning and was never scored upon, leaving after six and two-thirds innings, surrendering just three hits to earn the win. As Horst walked off the mound, the capacity crowd gave him a standing ovation. It was one of the most emotional moments of the entire season.
Horst moved upwards through the Reds farm system over the following seasons, reaching Triple-A with Louisville in 2010. On May 28, 2011, Horst was called to the big leagues by the Reds. He made his debut in an extra inning game against the Braves and ironically, drove in a run with a base hit when he got a rare opportunity to bat.
Horst pitched in 12 games for the Reds in 2011 and his work was credible. He finished with an ERA of 2.93 without a win or loss.
At the end of the 2011 season, the Reds traded Horst to the Philadelphia Phillies for shortstop Wilson Valdez, who would spend the entire 2012 season with Cincinnati. Horst, meanwhile, spent most of the year with the Phillies and was outstanding. In 32 games out of the bullpen, he allowed a total of four earned runs, posting an ERA of 1.15 with a 2-0 record. He struck out 40 in 31.1 innings and allowed an opponents' batting average of just .193.
Horst, now 27, returns to the Phillies in 2013, hoping to build on a fine 2012 season. He emerged as one of the most effective Dragons pitchers in franchise history in 2008 and became the 48th Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues.
Click here for Jeremy Horst's Major League statistics, photos, and video highlights.
Click here for Jeremy Horst's Minor League statistics.