The Cubs thought so highly of righthander Cade Horton’s power arm and athleticism that they drafted him seventh overall out of Oklahoma last year.
And Horton was living up to his billing in a short time, with a few wrinkles added.
The 6-foot-1, 211-pound Horton dominated the Low-A Carolina League in the early going with his willingness and ability to throw any of his pitches in any count.
After displaying a fastball clocked in the mid to high 90s and a power slider during the 2022 College World Series, Horton has unveiled a changeup that enhances his development as a frontline starter.
“We’re giving him that ultimate freedom in using that in all situations, regardless of the stakes, because we want to get him to a point where he’s confident leaning on it,” said Casey Jacobson, the Cubs’ senior coordinator of pitching development.
“That only comes if you get it out there in various levels of leverage situations, so he can grow with the pitch.”
The 21-year-old Horton stuck out 21 while allowing eight hits in 14.1 innings over his first four starts for Myrtle Beach. His fastball hovered around the edges of the strike zone to keep batters edgy, and his slider proved effective, particularly to his arm side.
Those weapons fulfill the upside that scout Ty Nichols envisioned while watching Horton at Oklahoma, where he also played quarterback briefly. Horton had Tommy John surgery as a freshman in 2020, and when he returns in 2022 he served as the Sooners’ third baseman before easing into the rotation and dominating down the stretch.
“The velocity and arm action was there,” Nichols said. “And that can be attributed to the athlete he is.”
The Cubs have handled their minor league starters conservatively, but Horton has learned pitch efficiency He needed just 49 pitches to throw four scoreless innings on April 26, 10 months after reaching the century mark twice and notching 24 strikeouts in starts against Notre Dame and Mississippi in the CWS.
“I think he can be a No. 1, No. 2-type starter in the big leagues because of the maturity, the athleticism and obviously the quality of his pitches,” Nichols said.
Said Jared Banner, the Cubs’ vice president of player personnel: “He has great aptitude and a desire to be the best.”