Oddly, there has almost been more concrete buzz about the Astros’ second pick than there has their first rounder at 28th overall. A wide range of players- usually prep infielders- have been mocked to Houston in the first, but one name seems to come up again and again when insiders hazard guesses on what they might do at 61st - UNC junior Mac Horvath. While he is wrapping up just his third year of college play, he was on the older side for his high school class and will be turning 22 just after draft day, on the 22nd of July. Older college position players have a tendency to split opinions, and the Astros, at least in the pre-Dana Brown years, have demonstrated that they more often end up on the high side, tending to pluck their preferred senior signs early in the proceedings. Within the last cycle alone, they’ve seen a 22 year old draft pick ascend rapidly in the organizational top 10 in Zach Dezenzo. Could Horvath follow in his footsteps?
A Minnesota native, Horvath was a highly-touted prep player who showed talent in numerous facets of the game, excelling both at the plate and on the mound. Eventually, he would end up transferring to IMG Academy to further his baseball career, where he continued to excel- he was slightly built at 6’1”, 175 with a wiry build, but nonetheless showed a blend of speed, power and arm strength that gave evaluators confidence that at least one piece of the profile would pop. Even at this stage of his career, there was significant pro interest and he likely could’ve gotten a high six figure bonus if not more if he so desired, but he graduated the year of the abbreviated 2020 draft which more or less locked in the decision to head to college for him.
Horvath arrived in Chapel Hill a top recruit, and would get significant playing time at the hot corner as a freshman. There were growing pains- in 136 plate appearances, he slashed .227/.311/.387 with 23 strikeouts against 15 walks. He’d then head out to the Northwoods League for offseason play, and continued to show a disciplined approach, but this time with more consistent solid contact, hitting .287/.437/.434. The Tar Heels continued to have a lot of confidence in him, and he would reprise his role as the primary third baseman in the 2022 season. By most measures, that campaign could be called a breakout- in 63 starts and an even 300 PAs, Horvath slashed .268/.390/.557 with 57 strikeouts against 46 walks, connected on 18 homers vs. 5 as a freshman, and even chipped in 19 steals.
The strong season rewarded UNC’s confidence in him, and built a bit of draft hype. Horvath would try to build on it with a trip to the Cape, where he was a mixed bag in 18 games. While he did demonstrate wood bat power with 6 dingers in just 77 PAs, he also struck out 20 times against 5 walks and reached base at just a .299 clip. What was also interesting was that rather than manning the third base position he had played exclusively to that point, Horvath instead roamed the outfield for the most part on the Cape- primarily playing center. While he has added 15+ pounds of muscle since high school and doesn’t have the same plus speed he did then, he fared pretty well there which added some intrigue to his profile.
Horvath projected as a key piece on a strong UNC club entering his draft year this season, and delivered on that billing. He set career highs in most categories, hitting .305/.418/.711 with 24 HRs, 25 steals in 29 attempts, and 61 strikeouts against 43 walks. His contact rate continued to lag behind the top players in the class a bit, but he was an impactful player in all phases, and his feel for the barrel continued to be as good as anyone’s. He would continue to man third base primarily, but interestingly UNC tasked him with more work in center field, including in some key games, and while he made a lot of errors on the whole this season, he showed intriguing defensive tools at multiple spots that portend future versatility in the field.
If Horvath were six months younger or his contact rate a bit better, he’d likely be a lock for the top 50. As it stands now, insiders expect him to fall a bit further than that, where some believe the Astros would be excited to land him. It’s hard for me to say that it doesn’t make sense- Horvath does indeed have a lot in common with a player like Dezenzo, and will bring a more polished hitting skillset with him than the latter had on day one, as his feel for loft is further along. I also get a gut feeling that the Astros would really push him in center field, which they’ve done with a number of athletes who were fringy at the position athletically but showed supporting skills, and have had some success doing so. At a minimum, Horvath represents bankable power with versatility to play any corner spot, which has a lot of value in and of itself. It wouldn’t surprise me if he does go off the board somewhere in the 51-60 range and the Astros lose out, but he’s a name I’d encourage Astros fans to keep in mind as they tune into the draft in a handful of days.