After Spring Breakout, Horton's sights set on Majors

March 14th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- Cade Horton took a seat on the metal bleachers behind Field 1 earlier this spring, observing a round of live batting practice. The pitching prospect watched intently as Cubs lefty Jordan Wicks went through his workout as a candidate for an Opening Day rotation spot.

A year ago, Wicks was not in Major League camp. The left-hander was preparing for his season with Double-A Tennessee, but he pitched his way to Chicago by the end of the year. Horton finds himself in a similar situation now, and Wicks provides a real example of why dreaming about pitching in Wrigley Field this year is not unrealistic.

“It's a cool opportunity,” Horton said on Wednesday. “I'm just trying to get better each and every day to put myself in the best position to make it up there.”

Horton is currently ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Cubs’ No. 2 prospect, the fourth-best pitching prospect in baseball and the No. 26 prospect overall on the preseason Top 100 list. On Friday, the 22-year-old righty is set to take the ball to lead a team of Cubs prospects in the Spring Breakout game against White Sox prospects at Sloan Park.

That showcase will give fans a chance to see one of the up-and-coming arms in the game and get a glimpse of a pitcher who has a shot at reaching the Majors by the end of this season. Horton soared up three levels in his pro debut last year, culminating in helping Tennessee win its first outright Southern League title since 1978.

“Cade is the kind of player and person you want to give the ball to in a big game,” said Cubs assistant general manager Jared Banner, who was the vice president of player development when Horton was drafted in the first round in 2022. “He puts in so much work and cares about his craft. He is extremely talented, and most importantly, he has electric stuff.

“That's the guy that you want to hand the ball to in a Spring Breakout game. He led Tennessee in the playoffs. He got a couple wins last year in their drive to the championship and, hopefully, he'll take the ball for the Chicago Cubs in some big games down the road.”

Including Horton’s two postseason outings at Double-A last season, the right-hander fashioned a 1.22 ERA with 42 strikeouts and 15 walks in 37 innings (eight starts) at that level in ‘23. Across 23 starts overall (including the playoffs), Horton had a 2.47 ERA with 128 strikeouts and 31 walks in 98 1/3 innings in stops with Single-A Myrtle Beach, High-A South Bend and Tennessee.

Horton was able to lean heavily on his four-seam fastball and sharp slider in his brief stint with Myrtle Beach, but said he could tell early on at the High-A level that he needed to build out his pitch repertoire. He spent last year working with the Cubs’ pitching group on developing a spike curveball and a Vulcan changeup (similar to a split change).

The Cubs were blown away by how quickly Horton was able to implement the additions to his arsenal.

“He’s just a good athlete,” said Ryan Otero, the Cubs’ director of pitching. “We gave him two new grips entering last year. He had never done them before and he was taking them into games like three days after a bullpen [session]. He throws a spike curveball for the first time in a while -- striking dudes out. It was a very quick, adaptability cycle.

“He's also just very open to things. And if you show him the why, and what we're going for, he has a very good open mind and can take things out there.”

Horton had an opportunity to test his new set of weapons against Cubs outfielder Ian Happ on a recent morning.

Happ headed down to Field 6 on the Cubs’ Minor League side of the complex on Saturday to get some at-bats. The switch-hitter faced Horton four times, striking out twice and generating weak contact in their other meetings. While Happ is in ramp-up mode as he comes back from a left hamstring setback, it was a confidence-boosting experience for the prospect.

“It definitely is a surreal moment,” Horton said. “He's an All-Star and he's a proven big leaguer. He's a vet. So, being able to face him was really, really cool. And just being able to see how my stuff plays, I can build confidence off of that.”