Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
May 12, 2014, Sooke, BC (ISN) – Left-handed pitcher Kurtis Horne is hoping that a successful showing so far this season with the Canadian Junior National Baseball Team and a good start to the 2014 BC Premier Baseball League Season with the Langley Blaze will be what it takes for the Sooke native to land a spot on a Major League Baseball (MLB) roster when the 2014 MLB entry draft begins on June 5th.
At 6’5″ and 200 lbs., Sooke lefthander Kurt Horne can be an imposing figure on the mound (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Horne, who stands at 6’5″ and 200 pounds, is a dominating figure on the mound and can be forgiven if he feels the winds of the draft around his ears while out on the field. He is hoping to become the third Victoria area player in the past few seasons to turn success with the Canadian Junior National Team into a spot in the minor league system of an MLB club, following on the heels of former Junior players, Victoria’s Jesse Hodges (who was signed by the Cubs in 2012) and Nick Pivetta (drafted last season by the Nationals).
Recently ranked as high as 12th on the Canadian Baseball Network’s list of draft eligible Canadian players, Horne has certainly been doing his part over the past few years to catch the eye of the MLB scouts.
After a stint with the Canadian Junior Nationals in 2013 and after disappointingly being left off the final Junior roster for the 2013 World Championships in Taiwan, Horne took it all in stride and re-focused himself to work harder and to continue improving. A first step in that process was coming back home and helping lead his 2013 Victoria Eagles Premier Baseball League team to their first ever BCPBL championship. Second, was a re-focus on his training and a drive to keep getting better.
Horne has had a solid showing for the Canadian Junior National Team thus far, posting decent numbers last fall, as well as in two Florida camps this past spring (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
“Being told late last year that I was not going to World’s was definitely tough, especially when I was really hyped up to go, ” said Horne in a recent sit-down with ISN. ” I was disappointed off the bat, but as time went on, I got to know that maybe it was for the better for me. It was an opportunity missed for sure, but it forced me to push myself a lot harder. I think ultimately it has made me a better player and helped me mature. It made me realize that I’m never too good for anybody, or anything, that nothing is guaranteed, and that you just have to keep working harder to improve.”
His work to improve paid off, as he earned a spot again on the roster for the 2014 Junior National team, where he has been steadily improving with each camp. Most recently, when the team was in Florida in April for a series of 2014 spring training games, Horne pitched seven innings of one-run ball against AA and AAA level prospects, before getting roughed up a bit for four runs by a domineering Houston Astros prospect team that put up 16 runs against Canada that day.
He also made a conscious, but somewhat difficult decision over the winter to leave the Victoria Eagles and join the BCPBL’s Langley Blaze for his final season of Premier League ball in an effort to maximize the exposure he would get, a move that thus far, seems to be paying off. In addition to having a solid pre-season with the Blaze during a trip to Arizona, where many scouts were in attendance, Horne has started the season well with the 17-2 Blaze, appearing in two games and holding a 1.07 ERA in 13 innings of work, while striking out eight.
“The decision to leave the Eagles was certainly tough,” said Horne, “but I have a really strong relationship with Langley Head Coach Doug Mathieson, and the Blaze organization is really great at getting scout and college exposure for their players. The team has a very high level of commitment to winning and a high percentage of kids who aspire to play at the pro and college level and I simply felt that being a part of that atmosphere would help me as a player to move forward.”
Horne is extremly proud to be representing his country on the Junior National Team and is looking forward to heading to the Domincan with the team in late May (Photo: Christan J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
The additional exposure appears to be paying dividends for Horne. A number of MLB teams have been in touch with him and have invited him to pre-draft workout camps and scouts have regularly been watching him play during his time with both the Juniors and the Blaze. Matheson has also been instrumental in securing a scholarship for Horne to play at New Mexico Junior College this fall should the draft not pan out, or should Horne decide to stay in school.
Chances are high however that the draft will come calling in June. His size and his “left-handedness” are definite assets that any MLB team would love to have in their system. His fastball has been touching 90 miles per hour and while not overpowering by any means, Horne has a repertoire of off-speed pitches that he uses that keeps batters on their toes.
Horne knows though that he has to continue to work on improving his off-speed pitches to have success at the next level. “One of the key bits of advice I received from Greg Hamilton and the other National Team coaches when I was left off the 2013 final roster was to keep working on my off-speed pitches. I’ve taken that to heart and in addition to working on getting bigger and putting a few more miles on and establishing better command of my fastball, I worked hard over the winter on improving my curve ball and slider, and it is now paying off for me.”
Pitching with the Langley Blaze in 2014, Horne is 1-0 with a 1.07 ERA in 13 innings of work in his two starts thus far in the BCPBL season (Photo: Faith Rompain)
Horne has also improved the mental aspects of his game, especially his approach and focus when things get a bit off track. “When I was younger, I used to think that giving up a lot of hits was a really bad thing and it would tend to get me flustered on the mound. I’d try to get batters to miss and I’d end up walking guys and making it worse. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that you WANT a batter to put a ball in play, as it usually means you have to throw fewer pitches. If they happen to get a hit, then so be it. If you then stress about that, you lose focus on the next batter. So you really have to focus on the next pitch. Just forget about the last one and move on.”
In his first two games with Langley this season, Horne has had the opportunity to put such maturity into play. In his first outing, an eventual 4-3 Blaze win with a no-decision to Horne, he was touched up for five hits and gave up four walks, but emerged with only a single earned run against him. Similarly, pitching this past Saturday against his former Eagle teammates, who did their enthusiastic best to disrupt his game, he stayed focused and went the distance in the 8-4 win, again giving up just a single earned run and walking only two in his seven innings of work.
Whether he joins a MLB organization, or heads to school in the fall, Horne has a large contingent of “Team Lefty” supporters behind him (Photo Courtesy the Horne Family)
Horne will have one more opportunity prior to the MLB Draft to showcase his various improvements with the Junior National Team, as they travel to the Dominican Republic on May 21st for a series of games with Dominican Summer League teams.
After that, fate, and perhaps a MLB organization will decide what will be next.
Horne keeps it all in perspective however, “My dream is to play pro ball. If it happens [draft] and I am selected, it would definitely be a dream come true. Until then I just want to stay focused on continuing to improve my game every time I take to the mound and help my teams (both Langley and the Juniors) in any way I can.”