'Dream come true': Horton showcases filthy stuff in pro debut

Cubs' 2022 first-rounder strikes out five over 2 1/3 scoreless for Single-A Pelicans

April 13th, 2023

Exactly one year ago, Cade Horton had made all of three collegiate pitching appearances for the University of Oklahoma, working a combined three frames. Fast forward 365 days and Horton polished off his first pro start as the top-ranked pitching prospect in the Cubs' organization, striking out five of the nine Single-A batters he faced.

“When I went out there tonight, it just felt like it was a dream come true,” Horton told MLB.com. “It felt kind of surreal. I worked all my life to finally get to pitch in professional baseball. But my main focus was really trying to throw strike one and get ahead of hitters.”

Along with his five punchouts, the 21-year-old scattered two hits without a walk during his short-but-sweet 2 1/3-inning scoreless debut in Myrtle Beach's 6-4 victory over host Lynchburg on Wednesday.

To call Horton’s rise to becoming the seventh overall pick in the 2022 Draft meteoric might still qualify as an understatement. On the heels of having undergone Tommy John surgery in February 2021 (and forgoing an opportunity to also play football at Oklahoma), the Oklahoma City native began the year as the Sooners’ third baseman. But when the phone rang last July, Horton -- the Cubs' No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline -- officially turned in his batting gloves for a full-time pitcher’s mitt.

“I’ve been a hitter, so I know how hard hitting is,” Horton said. “That’s what really simplifies pitching for me, just knowing how tough it is to hit. You fail seven out of 10 times and you’re a Hall of Famer. 

“That’s what makes me want to challenge guys and throw a lot of strikes. Because the defense will work for you and hitters are typically going to get themselves out.”

The pitch that undoubtedly captivated Chicago brass was Horton’s slider. Long is the list of prospects who enter the pro ranks with years of minutely honed repertoires, but this is not one such story. Horton merely tinkered with the pitch during a bullpen session last year in an attempt to get batters off his fastball/curveball mix and then after playing catch with a teammate, decided to unleash the slider/cutter hybrid in game action.

So after mowing through the College World Series with 24 strikeouts across his two starts, Horton picked up with where he left off with the Pelicans. Four of his five punchouts vs. the Hillcats came on the slider, many of which elicited rough-looking swings from the opposition. His final strikeout came on a 96 mph heater.

“All I can control is throwing it to a target, so that was my main focus,” Horton said. “Just hit the spot and play catch with the catcher.”

MLB Pipeline was so confident in Horton’s stuff playing at the pro level that he cracked Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list before even making his debut. In his one start with just 47 pitches (30 strikes) on his ledger, he showed the hellacious break to his slider and velo on his heater are still there. After staying out of game action the remainder of 2022 and getting in the lab with Cubs instructors prior to the ‘23 regular season, the very early returns are that Horton possesses the raw stuff Draft evaluators dream on when nabbing a hurler in the first round.