'He's dialed in': Taillon impressed by this top prospect's makeup

April 22nd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO -- Cubs starter wanted to use his Minor League rehab start with Double-A Tennessee as more than just a chance to build up his pitch count earlier this month. The quick trip down to spend time with the Smokies was also an opportunity for the veteran to chat with some of the team’s pitching prospects.

That included spending some time with righty , who is ranked by Pipeline as the Cubs’ top pitching prospect, No. 2 on Chicago’s Top 30 list overall and No. 23 on the Top 100 prospects list for all of baseball. Even though Taillon did not get to see Horton make a start, he nonetheless came away excited about the prospect’s potential.

“Not just even baseball wise -- I haven’t seen him throw a ton,” Taillon said. “But in Spring Training, he wasn’t in big league camp and he made a point of coming over and watching our ‘pens and watching guys warm up before their starts. I was super impressed. He’s 22 [years old] and just super mature.

“We hung out together a couple times in Tennessee and some of the things he was saying, I was like, ‘This dude, at least between the ears, that’s not going to be his problem.’ He’s dialed in for a young dude. I was thinking, ‘Man, I wish I was like that at that age.’ I was always mature and advanced for my age, and he’s ahead of the game right there. I’m super excited about him.”

Through his first three turns for Double-A Tennessee this season, Horton has also picked up right where he left off last year.

Horton has posted a 1.59 ERA with 12 strikeouts and just two walks through 11 1/3 innings at Double-A, where the righty ended last year. On Sunday against Montgomery, the righty allowed one run on three hits in 3 1/3 innings, in which he had three strikeouts and one walk in a 58-pitch effort.

In 2023, Horton had a 2.65 ERA with 117 strikeouts against 27 walks in 88 1/3 innings between Single-A Myrtle Beach, High-A South Bend and Tennessee. His year ended with two postseason wins to help the Smokies win the Southern League championship.

Taillon felt it was a good step to get to know Horton a little more during his time with Tennessee.

“Cade has the chance to be really good here for a long time,” Taillon said. “I just wanted him to know that I’m always available -- that our whole team is always available. If we want to be really good, it’s going to involve him at some point. To me, it’s like, why not start now?

“It’s also good to have those connections, so when he comes up he’s not a deer in the headlights. I don't know if he’ll ever need anything, but we have each other’s numbers.”

Triple-A Iowa: SS
The 24-year-old Vazquez -- ranked No. 17 on Pipeline’s Top 30 list for the Cubs -- is off to a solid start for the I-Cubs. Through 19 games, the shortstop has hit at a .348 (23-for-66) clip with three homers, two doubles, eight RBIs, seven walks and 11 runs scored, while posting a .429 on-base percentage and a .515 slugging percentage. Vazquez, who was a 14th-round pick in the 2017 Draft, is on Chicago’s 40-man roster.

High-A South Bend: UTIL
The younger brother of Cubs slugger Christopher Morel, Rafael has bounced around the field for South Bend, getting innings at all three outfield spots and at second and third base. The 22-year-old Morel has hit .353 (12-for-34) with a .436 on-base percentage through nine games with South Bend. He is not ranked among Chicago's Top 30 prospects by Pipeline.

Single-A Myrtle Beach: INF
The 20-year-old Hernandez, who checks in as the Cubs’ No. 21 prospect, has enjoyed a strong start to his season with the Pelicans. Through 10 games, Hernandez has hit .325/.413/.350 with nearly as many walks (five) as strikeouts (six), with seven stolen bases to boot. He has moved between second base and shortstop for Myrtle Beach.