Cubs select fast riser Horton with No. 7 pick

July 18th, 2022

CHICAGO -- It took only a few tosses in a round of catch for Cade Horton to find a pitch that would transform his season at Oklahoma. It took him only five postseason starts to convince the Cubs that he could be an important piece to their future.

Surrounded by family and friends at his home in Norman, Okla., on Sunday night, Horton learned that Chicago had selected him with the seventh overall pick in this year's MLB Draft. That phone call from the Cubs was the culmination of an incredible few months for the Sooners' star pitcher.

"I can't even describe the feeling," Horton said via a Zoom call. "It doesn't feel real. It's just, this night has been crazy."

This marks the second year in a row that the Cubs grabbed a collegiate arm in the first round, following the selection of Kansas State’s Jordan Wicks at No. 21 last summer. Chicago kept building up its inventory of pitching prospects in the second round of this Draft, picking prep lefty Jackson Ferris out of IMG Academy (Fla.) in the second round (No. 47 overall).

The Cubs entered this Draft with MLB’s 10th-largest bonus pool ($10,092,700), which includes a slot value of $5,708,000 for the No. 7 pick and $1,660,400 for No. 47. Day 2 of the Draft will begin at 1 p.m. CT on Monday with Rounds 3-10 streaming live on

Dan Kantrovitz, the Cubs’ vice president of scouting, noted that he and area scout Ty Nichols visited Horton at his home when the prep football and baseball star was deciding between college or the MLB Draft in 2020. Kantrovitz brought that up when he spoke to Horton on Sunday night.

“The first thing I asked Cade when I called him to congratulate him,” Kantrovitz said, “was if he remembered when we came to his house back in high school, because these guys have so many people coming through their homes. He said, of course, he did. It was nice to hear that, and just have that connection remain intact.”

Three weeks ago, Horton set a College World Series record with 13 strikeouts in the title game against Ole Miss. It was not enough to push Oklahoma to the championship, but it was a final exclamation point on a brilliant stretch to end the right-hander's season.

Beginning with the Big 12 title game, Horton went on a five-start run that included 49 strikeouts against six walks in 31 innings, in which he allowed 20 hits and turned in a 2.61 ERA. In his last two turns for the Sooners, he racked up 24 strikeouts with one walk in starts against Notre Dame and Ole Miss.

“If you would've asked me two months ago if Cade Horton was going to be a top target,” Kantrovitz said, “I might've been a little skeptical. But then fast forward and just witness the trajectory.”

Overall, Horton ended with a 4.86 ERA and 64 strikeouts against 15 walks in 53 2/3 innings in his redshirt freshman tour for Oklahoma. His numbers alone, however, do not tell the whole story.

On May 21, the 20-year-old Horton surrendered eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in a gut punch of an ending to his regular season. The righty's ERA sat at 7.94 in his comeback from February 2021 Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow. OU head coach Skip Johnson eased Horton in as an infielder through February in March, then as a reliever and finally moved him back to the rotation in mid-April.

"I felt like guys were really getting to the fastball," Horton said, "and sitting on one pitch, either the breaking ball or the fastball. And once they got it, they were just hammering it. And so after that [Texas Tech] start, I was like, 'I've got to do something different.'"

Former big leaguer Brett Eibner, who lives in Oklahoma and has formed a relationship with Johnson, happened to be at the field when Horton was throwing a bullpen session. Initially, Eibner showed the younger pitcher a cutter grip, which Horton tested out.

"It was all right," Horton said. "It really wasn't doing what I wanted it to do."

As his outing against the University of Texas neared, Horton was playing catch with right-hander Ben Abram, a redshirt junior for the Sooners. Abram had Horton try an altered grip, told the righty to "lock" his wrist and fire the pitch like he would a fastball.

After a few throws, Horton tried it off the mound.

"I threw it in the bullpen," he said. "It looked really good."

Horton took the pitch into his May 29 start and used it to balance an arsenal that features a fastball, curve and changeup. He struck out nine over 5 1/3 innings. Then came eight punchouts on June 5 (Florida) and June 12 (Virginia Tech), and another 11 (Notre Dame) before the College World Series final.

“I think it’s his aptitude as much as his coachability,” Johnson said via email. “When you look at a big leaguer, they can pick up stuff so fast because their aptitude is so high. I think that’s the biggest difference for him.”

Beyond that new wipeout pitch -- one touching 90 mph -- Horton was sitting 94-96 mph, and topping out at 98 mph, with his fastball. If there were any doubts about where teams should put him on their Draft boards, Horton was erasing them one pitch at a time.

“What we started to see towards the end,” Kantrovitz said, “with his performance at Omaha in the College World Series, was indicative of the Cade Horton that we're going to see in the future. I also don't think we've seen the best of him.”

Kantrovitz: Ferris was ‘No. 1 target’ for second round

In a pre-Draft meeting with Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and general manager Carter Hawkins on Sunday morning, Kantrovitz presented an “ideal road map” for the first two rounds. Landing Horton was the primary goal, but the Cubs were already aiming for Ferris in Round 2.

“Jackson was the No. 1 target there,” Kantrovitz said.

In the 18-year-old Ferris, the Cubs reeled in a 6-foot-4 lefty who faced strong competition all season in his senior year at IMG Academy. Ferris piled up 103 strikeouts against 15 walks in 54 1/3 innings, posting a 1.33 ERA with a .142 opponents’ average and a .203 opponents’ on-base percentage.

“This wasn't somebody that was just coming in and pitching with two pitches for two innings,” Kantrovitz said. “He's throwing complete games and showing off four pitches, and going multiple times through the order, and showing an ability to make in-game adjustments. It kind of went above and beyond.”