Canadian Horsman helping Jays' pitching prospects

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By Scott Langdon

Canadian Baseball Network

Erie, PA -- Top Blue Jays’ pitching prospect Sean Reid-Foley struggled last year at double-A New Hampshire. But the righthander is turning heads with strong performances at triple-A Buffalo this season thanks in part to the guidance of Canadian pitching coach Vince Horsman.

“Sean had a tough season with us last year,” said Horsman, who's the pitching coach for the Jays’ New Hampshire Fisher Cats, double-A affiliate in the Eastern League. “He was working on developing his change-up and he was getting beat on it. But to his credit he kept working on it and it’s better. Now he has developed confidence in the pitch.”

Reid-Foley, promoted to the triple-A Buffalo Bisons in late May, is 3-2 with a 4.71 ERA.  He struck out eight Pawtucket Red Sox batters over 6 2/3 innings in his most recent outing, beating the Red Sox affiliate 3-1.

Horsman, a Halifax N.S native, is in his 35th season of professional baseball including five years as a pitcher in the big leagues. He debuted with the Blue Jays in 1991 as a 24-year-old lefthander. He also pitched for Oakland and Minnesota.

Horsman says he coaches today in a way he would have liked to be coached when he was a player.

“The days of yelling and screaming are gone. Today, coaching is much like raising children. You try to build a good environment where the player feels safe to be himself, to learn and to develop his skills,” he said.

“I try to build a good working relationship with the players, to be approachable. There is a fine line though. I don’t need more friends and they know that. But I believe they need to know you care about them. Once that is established, then what you know and how you can help them begins to matter more,” he explained.

Listening is an important coaching skill, he says.

“Listening to them is important. I try to get them to talk first about what they need, how they like to learn and then I tailor my approach to their needs,” he said.

Horsman says he had strong support from some coaches during his career. They guide his approach with the Jays’ young pitchers.

“Back in Nova Scotia, Vic Doucette encouraged me to be hard-nosed, to compete every time you step on the mound. At the pro level, Mel Queen and Hector Torres were strong influences in my career and my coaching philosophy. In fact, Hector was such a positive influence I married his daughter,” he chuckled.

Horsman points out that the skills of double-A players are similar to those of big leaguers. The difference, he says, is consistency.

“The skills at double-A are similar with the big leagues. Learning to be consistent is the tough part. Learning to master your skills starts from your first day in professional baseball,” he explained.

“The faster a player can develop consistency, the sooner he will move up the ladder. As a coach, I can help with drills, repetition and encouragement, but he has to develop that true sense of who he is as a player,” he added.

Horsman also knows from experience that dealing with failure is another intangible skill that players must learn to progress in professional baseball.

“Failure matters. This is their career. Sometimes players will put pressure on themselves when they’re struggling. Part of my job is to remind them to have fun, to relax.”

Horsman is one of only eight players from Nova Scotia to reach the major leagues according to the Baseball Almanac (www.baseball-almanac.com) and the only one since Shorty Dee of Halifax debuted with the St. Louis Browns in 1915.  

He was inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame in 2012, three years after joining the Jays’ organization as pitching coach at short season Auburn in the New York Penn League. He has coached at Lansing, Dunedin and joined the Fisher Cats’ staff in 2016. Pitchers such as Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, Reid-Foley and others have benefitted from his coaching skills.

Horsman says there is a difference between a young Canadian pitcher of his generation and the Canadians entering pro ball today.

“Oh, for sure, I see a difference. The kids now, especially those who come out of the Junior National Program, have more opportunities, better competition and coaching from people such as Greg Hamilton and others. They have far more exposure than I did. Geez, if you were from Atlantic Canada back in the day…forget it,” he laughed.

He has some considered advice for amateur coaches working with young pitchers.

“Be aware of how many pitches they throw and how often they throw. Don’t overdo it. Try to teach the basics such as being balanced over the rubber, hand separation and not throwing across the body. Teach them to throw fastballs and develop arm strength with drills such as long toss. Then, I would teach a change-up. Curve balls shouldn’t be thrown until kids become more physically mature, perhaps around the age of 14 or 15,” he explained.

Horsman has accomplished a lot in professional baseball since he signed in 1984 after being seen pitching in the Canadian Nationals. Being named to the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame was a highlight he was happy to share with his father.

“I really wanted my Dad to be a big part of that and he was. That was important to me. Unfortunately, he passed away a year later.”

This season at New Hampshire, Horsman is guiding a staff that has pitched the Fisher Cats into the top spot in the Eastern League’s eastern division. No doubt Sean Reid-Foley won’t be the last prospect to benefit from his 35 years in professional baseball and a coaching style and philosophy honed during a decade in the Jays’ system.

Scott Langdon

Scott is retired and does some freelance writing to keep his mind sharp, with moderate success.

He learned a lot about baseball in west end Toronto when he played for legendary amateur coach, Bob Smyth, known as the mentor of Reds’ star Joey Votto. Smyth taught Scott the intricacies of the sport when, during a Midget game, he strolled half way to home from the third base coach’s box , pointed at the ground and yelled, “Bunt it here.” This might have been the same game when Smyth sent him home for showing up at the park in blue jeans shorts and no shoes. It was the 1960s after all.

Scott’s son, Michael, also played for Smyth with the Etobicoke Rangers. Daughter Katherine didn’t play baseball, but still laughs at the stories.

Scott lives in Toronto sometimes, operated a consulting business for clients across North America, earned a Master’s degree in Communication from Charles Sturt University, Australia and teaches part time at a Toronto university. He thanks Bob Elliott for his patience with punctuation and Bob Smyth for his friendship.