BOWIE, Md. — Josh Horton was getting ready for batting practice in Sacramento when he got a telephone call from Brian Graham, the director of player development for the Baltimore Orioles.
A former standout at Orange High and UNC, middle infielder Horton, 27, was told he had been traded by the Oakland A’s to the Orioles.
“I was pretty surprised,” he said.
He had been drafted in the second round out of UNC in 2007 by the A’s and had worked his way up the minor league ladder of Oakland, reaching Triple-A Sacramento for the first time in 2011 but never getting to the major leagues.
When he got that call from Graham, the former interim general manager for the Pirates, Horton’s thought process went from preparing for BP to how he would get his vehicle back East.
And while he was playing Triple-A ball for Oakland, the Orioles assigned him to the Double-A Bowie (Md.) Baysox of the Eastern League. In the end, Horton left his vehicle in California and flew to Baltimore before he reported to Bowie in May.
“The transition was pretty smooth,” said Horton, a left-handed hitter who batted .298 in his first 64 games for Bowie. “Just coming over to the East Coast was a big adjustment for me since I had never been this close to home” as a pro player.
Horton spent most of his minor league career with Midland, the Oakland affiliate in the Texas League. He played all of the 2009 season at that level and was also in Midland for parts of 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Last year he hit .278 in 121 games for Midland and also played in three games for Sacramento.
“He hits very well versus left-handers and uses the whole field,” Bowie manager Gary Kendall said Aug. 22 of Horton. “Defensively he has been very solid. It is good to have him here.”
Horton was hitting .224 in 17 games for Sacramento when he was traded May 13 to the Orioles for a player to be named later.
“I didn’t know anybody” in Bowie, he said.
“He became available because Oakland did not have a roster spot for him,” said Graham, who played minor league ball for Keith Lieppman, the director of player development for Oakland. “He is a team player, fundamentally sound and knows how to play the game. He is focused and intense and can play multiple spots.”
The Bowie roster includes several position players with Triple-A experience. “That is not a big concern. We are trying to develop some of our younger pitchers and we want to put guys on the field to help them. That is the thought process we have,” Graham said.
One of those promising pitchers is Mike Wright, who is from Whiteville and played at East Carolina University. He has a record of 11-2 through Aug. 19.
Horton has been on fire of late at the plate. In a 10-game stretch through Aug. 27 he hit .441with four doubles, a triple and six RBIs.
He had three hits Aug. 10 at Portland then went 3-for-3 against Richmond on Aug. 18, then got two more hits twice against Binghamton on Aug. 19 and 28. He also notched two against New Britain on Aug. 22. His parents, Kim and Alan of Hillsborough, have been able to come and see him play in Richmond and Bowie.
Horton has played mostly second and also has seen time at short and has batted in the lower third of the order for Kendall.
Overall he had 16 doubles, one homer and 20 RBIs in his first 215 at-bats with Bowie, located about 10 miles east of Washington, D.C. and about 40 miles southeast of Camden Yards in Baltimore.
“Anytime you get to Double-A, the moving up part turns into consistency. That is an easy word to throw around. The consistency turns into numbers,” he said.
Manny Machado played for Kendall at Bowie last season before he was called up to the third baseman for the Orioles. Top pitching prospect Kevin Gausman began this season with the Baysox before he made his big league debut May 23. Gausman is now with Triple-A Norfolk of the International League.
Bowie is the hunt for the playoffs, which end in mid-September in the Eastern League. Horton is engaged to be married Oct. 12 to Karyn Nesbit, a graduate of UNC who teaches for SoulCycle in Brooklyn. Horton plans to spend the winter in Brooklyn and look for an indoor workout facility.
Horton will be a minor league free agent after this season. Is it possible the Orioles will sign him for 2014? “That is a decision we will have to make in the near future. He has really played well the last few weeks,” Graham said. “It has been a good fit.”