They went about it in different ways, but High-A Frederick pitchers Mitch Horacek and David Hess showed in both ends of Wednesday’s doubleheader against Lynchburg that big league potential comes in different packages.
Horacek threw a seven-inning, complete-game shutout in the first half of the double header, then Hess allowed two runs on five hits in the second half of the two-game sweep.
Horacek, a left-hander signed in the ninth round out of Dartmouth in 2013, used primarily his sinking 87-88 mph fastball and his slider, which sat 78-82 mph, to keep at bay a talented Lynchburg lineup that features three top draft picks.
He pounded the zone with first-pitch strikes, went to a three-ball count just twice in 23 batters faced, and coaxed swinging strikes on a fastball that was deceptive out of the hand but hardly overpowering.
In 2014, his full-season debut with Class-A Delmarva, Horacek was 6-10, but with a 3.80 ERA and a South Atlantic League-leading 151 strikeouts in 137 1/3 innings. His strikeout rate improved in the second half (11.1 K/9, versus 8.74 in the first half), but his ERA climbed from 2.57 at the All-Star break to 3.80 at season’s end.
On Wednesday, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he was “finesse-y,” and not in a bad way. Horacek has “got a chance to be pretty good, even if it’s in the bullpen," he said.
The Orioles’ manager likes Hess, as well. The 2015 fifth-round pick out of Tennessee Tech made a combined 10 appearances between short-season Class A Aberdeen and Class-A Delmarva last year, and made the impressive jump to Frederick.
Last week, Frederick pitching coach Kennie Steenstra said Hess was challenged with that assignment because of how advanced he was.
Early in Wednesday’s game (which I had to leave after two innings of Hess to get back to Baltimore), the 6-foot-2 right-hander sat 92-94 mph with his fastball, reaching 95 mph on two occasions and mixing in a crisp 74-75 mph breaking ball. He struck out three in the first two innings, and finished having allowed two runs on five hits with four strikeouts in five innings. He generates power with his strong lower half, and extends through his delivery to make his fastball jump on batters.
“We make sure we’re doing what’s best for the pitcher obviously but we also want to make sure that we’re challenging him and giving him a good level of competition,” Steenstra said last week. “From what I saw in spring training, this is a perfect match for him. I think this league is definitely going to challenge him and it’s going to challenge him to push him to make some adjustments and do some things he may not have done in Delmarva, but at the same time I don’t’ see him being overwhelmed.”
Hess bills himself as a fastball-first pitcher, and with his velocity, that might have played well in Delmarva, just as it has through two starts in Frederick. The eight-team Carolina League will force him to mix in his secondaries — he throws both a slider and curveball, plus a changeup — as teams get multiple looks at him throughout the season.
That will be a challenge for both of these promising arms as the Keys ride through the Carolina League. One will do it with finesse, and one will do it with power, but both showed the promise Wednesday to make it seem like they’ll adjust well.
Early power show for Mancini
Big first baseman Trey Mancini, who had 10 home runs between Delmarva and Frederick last season, already has two in the first week of the season, to go along with a double, a triple, and three RBIs. He’s batting .290 and has struck out just once, though he hasn’t drawn a walk.
Two of the top hitters from last year’s Delmarva team, catcher Chance Sisco and third baseman Drew Dosch, are off to slow starts in the Carolina League. Dosch is 4-for-28, though he’s still playing strong defense at third base, while Sisco has a hit and three walks in nine at-bats through four games.