Vince Horsman has some big-time horses
* The Jays trio of young studs – Aaron Sanchez, Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard – are in good hands at class-A Lansing with pitching coach Vince Horsman (Halifax, N.S.), shown above during a mound conference with Sanchez, strength and conditioning coach Jason Dowse (Cannington, Ont.) and trainer James Gardiner (Toronto, Ont.) ….
By Alexis Brudnicki
LANSING, Mich. — Behind every up-and-coming young pitching prospect is a good Canadian pitching coach.
Maybe that’s not how the saying goes, but the idea certainly rings true for the Lansing Lugnuts.
There has been a lot of talk about the pitching staff of the Toronto Blue Jays class-A affiliate, but not as much about the man behind their success. Halifax native Vince Horsman doesn’t take any credit for what his hurlers have done, but their numbers speak for themselves.
Aaron Sanchez, Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard have merged this season to become Lansing’s three-headed pitching monster. Combined the three young pitchers have compiled 22 wins and 268 strikeouts while posting a 2.57 ERA in 238 1/3 innings.
Horsman also saw Jesse Hernandez earn a promotion earlier this season after going 4-4 with a 2.29 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP in 78 2/3 innings for the Lugnuts. In addition, David Rollins, one of the prospects traded to the Houston Astros in the 10-player J.A. Happ deal, posted a 6-1 record to go with a 2.78 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings in Lansing.
“This year with Vince, it’s been so hands-on for four months now that the success I’m having has kind of put a lot of credit toward him, being on top of me every four days in between,” Sanchez said. “We’ve got this one day, this day we’ve got to do that; being so in-depth with what we’re working on every day in between has been a lot of help for me.”
The oldest of the trio of highly-touted starters at 21, Nicolino also feels that the routine he’s become accustomed to under Horsman’s watch has been a big part of what he’s been able to accomplish.
“I want to say, compared to last year, I feel 100% stronger because of the way I’m working out, the way I’m taking care of my body; the way that Vince and James [Gardiner] and Jason [Dowse] our trainer, are working with us,” Nicolino said. “They’re on top of our stuff every day but it also causes us to be on top of our stuff. It’s allowed us to go out there and be strong and compete every five days.”
Horsman refuses to claim that he’s the reason behind the achievements of the Lansing pitchers this season. The former Blue Jay says that anyone could have come into the club with the talent they have this year and the pitchers would have done what they’ve been doing.
“These kids are self-motivated,” Horsman said. “I call them low-maintenance. They know what they want to do; they know where they want to be and they’re determined. I’m just offering a little bit of experience and trying to give it to them and see how they handle it. It’s a lot of work but I don’t deserve any of the credit. The credit goes to the kids…
“It’s all about the kids and about them honing their craft and being as good as they possibly can be. I don’t want any of the credit. It’s nice when you hear that the guys are really appreciative, but whether it’s working with Nicolino or it’s working with the 12th man in the bullpen, I still get the same satisfaction of working with the kids and watching them improve.
“But these guys, it’s a special group. It really is. Each and every day they rededicate themselves and come to the ballpark and get better.”
As Nicolino did, Horsman was quick to acknowledge his fellow Canadians on the staff as a part of what’s been going on behind the team that is first overall in Midwest League standings. Strength and conditioning coach Dowse is from Cannington, Ont., trainer Gardiner is from Toronto and both deserve front-of-the-line acknowledgement.
“Credit goes to a lot of people,” the Lugnuts pitching coach said. “It goes to the players first, for being very determined and dedicated young men, preparing themselves every fifth day to go out there and throw the baseball.
“You’ve got to take into account the strength and conditioning coach, Jason Dowse. Nobody ever sees him or hears of him but he’s got his hands on these guys every day. A lot of the credit should go to him. I do what I do. I appreciate the compliments but it’s the kids.
“They understand, they get the message, they can adjust, they can adapt; again, they’re very bright kids for such young men.”
Toronto’s farmhands also carry an impressive demeanour around the ballpark. Their confidence on the mound turns into genuine consideration and openness off the field. On a night in which Nicolino made his start in Lansing, Sanchez and Syndergaard took their turns sitting in the seats directly behind home plate, charting pitches.
Throughout the game, along with fulfilling their chart duties, the two took time out to talk to young fans, share laughs, answer questions and even let one youngster take over radar gun duty to help them out, which made his day.
As the two pitchers nodded yes in the young man’s direction, he practically flew around to the empty seat next to Syndergaard, happily taking the gun and holding it ready for as many pitches as they would allow him.
The same aspiring young ballplayer – or perhaps future radar gun operator – returned again the next night and went straight to Syndergaard to see if he could resume his position. He was allowed, and he took his turn assisting in the charting of Sanchez’s pitches.
The men on the mound still have a lot to learn and will encounter ups and downs throughout their careers, but Horsman believes that they’re on the right track. He is trying to maintain their confidence and prepare them for the next level.
“Sometimes you go through the peaks and valleys, and you get a little self-doubt in your mind,” he said. “‘Do I really belong here?’ or ‘Do I have what it takes?’ And what I try to be is very positive, even if they have a bad outing. Take what you do well and take what you do poorly, learn from it and move on. I try to instill that confidence in those kids to trust their ability and go out there and do their thing.”
Perhaps, though it cannot be confirmed, one other thing that Horsman has instilled in his staff is a little bit of Canadian pride.
“It means a lot [to be a part of this organization] because it’s the only Canadian team,” Nicolino said. “I got to pitch last year in Vancouver and those are the only two teams that are in Canada. Getting to do that is something special because having a team on the east side of Canada and then all the way on the west, it makes it that much more fun for baseball.”