When Mac Horvath moved from Minnesota to Florida to train at IMG Academy his senior year of high school, he pictured year-round baseball weather and the chance to play in front of scouts every day.
Instead, he got a pandemic.
He played just five games and had only a few conversations with scouts before he was sent home. He watched the shortened five-round 2020 draft but was not picked.
If they had the full event, Horvath was expected to be selected in a later round.
“You could see as far as the skill set, the strength and just the baseball IQ that you knew he was going to play at a higher level,” said Dan Simonds, the academy’s baseball director. “It would have been interesting to see.”
Instead, Horvath went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a three-year starter on one of the ACC’s premier teams. After his junior year, Horvath, eligible again to be drafted for the first time since 2020, finally got to hear his name called.
It took a few extra years. But Horvath, selected 53rd overall by the Orioles and signed Tuesday for a $1.4 million bonus, ended up getting picked much higher — and with a much bigger payout — than he would have been out of high school.
Horvath is far from alone. All but two of the Orioles’ top 11 picks were high school seniors in 2020, with most, including first-round selection Enrique Bradfield Jr., projected to be selected had it been a normal draft year.
The pandemic was far from a good thing. But, in this case, the Orioles may have gotten lucky.
“We think it contributed to an extra-deep college class this year, especially on the position player side,” general manager Mike Elias said. “The industry has gotten so accurate and efficient at identifying high school hitters and signing them before they get to college. ... I do think it helped us possibly have some better first-round talents this year in the college ranks.”
The Orioles had Bradfield on their list in 2020. The team starting scouting him in 2018, when he was a sophomore at an American Heritage School in Florida. His defense caught their eye, but they also noticed his skills at the plate and his speed.
But, when it came time to make their selections in 2020, they didn’t have enough picks to add Bradfield to their organization. The team instead went with Coby Mayo — who grew up in the same areas as Bradfield — as their lone high school position player selected.
Bradfield, the nation’s 13th-ranked high school outfielder according to Perfect Game, did not get picked by any team.
So Bradfield, like Horvath, went the college route. He headed to Vanderbilt, where he was the SEC Freshman of the Year in his first season.
In his three seasons there, he became more consistent. He learned how to be less timid on the basepaths, using his elite speed. He developed a disciplined pregame routine and learned how to be “on” every night. He stole 130 bases in 191 games at Vanderbilt, averaging .311.
On draft day this time, Bradfield got the call. He was selected 17th overall and signed Tuesday for $4,169,700.
“I didn’t have the confidence, and that was something that really grew every day,” Bradfield said.
Horvath too believes he benefited from the extra three years. He finally got to play outside every day, no longer having to worry about snow covering his fields. He was already athletic — Horvath played basketball for all of high school, too — but college was the first time he got infield and outfield reps every day.
The Orioles feel confident enough in his defensive skills to move him around to multiple positions.
“I think I got better in every aspect of the game,” Horvath said of his time at UNC.
Bradfield, Horvath and the rest of the Orioles signees will head off to the team’s complex in Sarasota, Florida, to begin their professional careers.
It’s three years later than a lot of them had hoped, but they all ended up in the place they wanted to be.
“Looking back on it, I’m really glad it did happen,” Horvath said. “Who knows if I would’ve ended up at North Carolina. Those three years there were amazing.”