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MLB Amateur Draft could call on South Hadley native Ryan Horstman

  • PHOTO COURTESY ST. JOHN'S<br/>South Hadley native Ryan Horstman delivers for St. John's this season.
  • PHOTO COURTESY ST. JOHN'S<br/>South Hadley native Ryan Horstman delivers for St. John's this season.

SOUTH HADLEY — After spending two years just trying to get back on a mound, Ryan Horstman finds himself in an enviable position.

The South Hadley native, who just finished his freshman season for the St. John’s baseball team, is expected to hear his name called during the Major League June Amateur Draft.

Horstman looked every bit the prospect when he completed his senior year at South Hadley in 2010. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound left-hander was 6-0 with a 0.25 ERA while helping to lead the Tigers to the program’s first ever Western Massachusetts Division 2 Tournament title. He likely would have had considerable college interest, but academic woes forced him to repeat his senior year in order to graduate.

Ineligible to play baseball for a fifth year, he spent a rare spring away from the game. The year was frustrating, but motivating. Helped by the fact that St. John’s kept its scholarship offer on the table, Horstman got his academics in order and stayed in shape.

“When you don’t do things for a while, it makes you realize how much you love the game,” he said. “I’m loving it more and more and it’s making me more attached. I never thought about giving up on baseball. Baseball is my life. It was frustrating but I was never going to give up. I feel very proud of everything I’ve done off the field to get back.”

St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer saw something in Horstman’s arm and his character that led him to believe he was worth waiting for during Horstman’s extra year of high school and redshirt year in 2012.

“When you have a guy that has the ability physically and the desire that he convinced us of, I thought it was a good match,” Blankmeyer said. “I just think this kid is an athlete that has the desire to excel.”

Despite not having pitched an inning of collegiate baseball, he was invited to play for the Keene Swamp Bats of the New England College Baseball League last summer. The rust was obvious at times as he worked to build back not only his endurance, but his feel for the ball and how to attack hitters in situations. Still, Horstman finished with a 4-1 record and a 5.73 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 262∕3 innings and a earned a spot in the All-Star game.

“I had to get used to things again. I had to build my strength up and get more confident,” he said. “I did have success in Keene and I gained a lot of confidence about how to pitch to these guys.”

Knowing that St. John’s had invested time in waiting for him added to Horstman’s incentive to help the Red Storm.

“A guy like me sitting out the year ... they still stuck with me. It was a great motivator,” he said. “It made me feel good about myself that I was actually wanted.”

He turned that motivation into a strong freshman season. He was 6-6 with a 2.33 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 652∕3 innings working as both a starter and out of the bullpen. His ERA was best on the Red Storm and tied for fifth in the Big East.

His two years off make him a rare draft eligible freshman. How high he’s taken depends on whether teams look at him as a talent with less than normal wear on his valuable left shoulder or a raw prospect that could use more seasoning with just one year of collegiate baseball under his belt.

If Horstman’s selected, he’ll have some good options to choose from:

e_STnSIf a team offers him a lucrative signing bonus, he can take it and begin his pro career. Many draft picks negotiate an education clause in their contract that allows them to return to school at the team’s expense after their baseball career is over. So signing wouldn’t prevent him from getting a free education.

e_STnSHe can return to St. John’s and try to build on a strong year, improve his draft position and his potential signing bonus. Horstman will be draft eligible after each collegiate season that he remains in school for.

His strong spring also earned him an invitation to the Cape Cod Baseball League, where he’ll play for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. The CCBL is widely regarded as the nation’s top summer circuit and a solid predictor of professional potential. If he pitches well, it could not only improve his draft position for next year, but it could encourage whoever drafts him this year to increase their offer.

Blankmeyer thought Horstman would benefit from another season in college, but wanted Horstman to do what was best for his future.

“His case is unique because he has some years of eligibility that he can use and use as bargaining chips. If something comes up where you receive a substantial bonus based on what you feel is of value to you and you’d like to take a shot at it, then that’s your call. There’s no pressure on him compared to kids going into their junior year. He has the best of both worlds,” Blankmeyer said. “I think this is a year he got his feet wet. I think next year is a year he could really take off. Pitching in summer baseball and really understanding what it takes, I think there’s a higher curve for improvement. I think his value would rise. It’s in his hands. I’m sure he’ll do the right thing.”

With success in the classroom and on the field, Horstman said he’d make a decision about his future when the time came.

“I’ve had success,” Horstman said. “ I’m happy that’s happened and I’ll go from there.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com.

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