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2022 MLB Draft: Oklahoma RHP Cade Horton Uses College World Series To Rocket Up Draft Boards

Last year it was Mississippi State righthander Will Bednar. This year, it’s Oklahoma righthander Cade Horton.

The new July draft creates plenty of complications in the amateur baseball schedule, but one thing it does provide is a full opportunity for college players to showcase their talents throughout the postseason.

In 2021, Bednar pitched three games in the College World Series, helping the Bulldogs to a pair of wins over Texas and a third against Vanderbilt to win a national championship. In that stretch, he threw 18.1 innings, allowed three earned runs and struck out 26 batters compared to just six walks.

Prior to those outings, Bednar had ranked between No. 38 and 43 on four different updates of the 2021 Baseball America draft rankings. Following his CWS performance, Bednar—then a draft-eligible sophomore—jumped into consensus first round range, finished as the No. 18 prospect in the class and was selected with the 14th overall pick by the Giants and signed for just over $3.6 million.

While Horton’s Sooners weren’t able to win the College World Series—Mississippi swept them in two games and beat Horton 4-2 on Sunday to win its first championship in program history—Horton himself has rapidly moved up draft boards and elevated his stock.

Horton threw four games this June: once against Florida in regionals, once against Virginia Tech in super regionals, once against Notre Dame in the College World Series and yesterday’s College World Series final matchup against Ole Miss. In those four outings, Horton threw 25.2 innings, while allowing eight earned runs (2.81 ERA), with 40 strikeouts (14.0 K.9) and four walks (1.4 BB/9).

While the peripheral numbers are impressive, Horton’s stuff has been electric. In Sunday’s outing he pitched in the 94-97 mph range with a fastball that features plus riding life, and he pairs it with multiple breaking balls—an upper-80s slider that touched 90 in this outing and looked like a double-plus breaking ball at times and a slower curveball in the lower 80s that showed at least average.

In a draft class that has been decimated on the college side (and has started losing pitchers on the prep side as well), Horton is potentially filling a demographic vacuum ahead of the July draft.

Horton’s background makes him a tough player to form a tight consensus on, though most scouts polled by Baseball America in recent days put him in the first or second round based on his performance this June. More cautious teams will likely pause at his collegiate innings total of 53.2 and middling run prevention numbers, while less risk-averse organizations will look at his first round stuff and current performance and happily put a first round evaluation on him.

It’s not like Horton came out of nowhere, either. He was a highly-regarded prepster who ranked as the No. 65 player in the 2020 draft class. At the time he was a standout football player and both a hitter and pitcher on the baseball field, with upside at both positions. There was plenty of chatter about how electric Horton looked after reaching campus during the fall of 2020, but his 2021 season never happened thanks to Tommy John surgery.

Because of his lack of collegiate track record, he entered the 2022 season as a wild card draft-eligible sophomore who needed to put together a strong season to reclaim his high school draft stock. It seems like he’s done that and then some this postseason, though as an eligible-sophomore he’s got more leverage to play his hand than other college prospects in the class.

Like Horton, Bednar in 2021 was also a draft-eligible sophomore who came on slow during his 2021 season thanks to an injury (albeit a neck, not a Tommy John recovery). Bednar began pitching in short stints in early March before ramping up and then exploding on college baseball’s highest stage last June. Horton didn’t make his first start this spring until late March, when he also pitched in shorter outings before slowly getting extended and eventually showing some of the best stuff in the class in this year’s College World Series.

Bednar’s ascent could also serve as a somewhat cautionary tale. He has had a rather underwhelming 2022 season at Low-A San Jose, going 1-3, 4.19. He’s only allowed 25 hits in 43 innings, but he’s also walked 22 batters and hit another 12.

While he’s struggling in Low-A, five of the other six healthy college first round pitchers are pitching in Double-A and the sixth is pitching in High-A.

Regardless of where Horton is selected, or whether he continues following a path similar to Bednar a year ago—he’s made the most of his opportunities this spring and is now one of the more fascinating pitchers in a class desperate for college arms worth getting excited about.

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Big 12 2020 College Baseball Recruiting Breakdown

Team-by-team breakdowns of every Big 12 school's 2020 college baseball recruiting class.

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