Well. I’d say the Cubs took everyone by surprise tonight, and clearly kept this one under their hat. With Kevin Parada, Cam Collier, and Brooks Lee all still on the board, the Cubs went with Oklahoma righty Cade Horton. He did not go in the top ten in any (almost any?) mock that I saw.
Just 20, Horton is young for a draft-eligible college arm, and going into the Big 12 Tournament and the College World Series, he was not seen as a top half of the first round pick. Maybe not even close. But he dominated in the postseason, picked up a new slider, and started flying up the boards. By tonight, he was tentatively expected to go in the top 16 or so, but no one seems to have expected him quite this high.
Most of the pre-draft rankings on Horton had him in the 20 to 30 range, though a guy with so much late helium was probably pretty hard to pin down.
One question: are the Cubs getting slot savings here that they can use on pick two or later on? The total haul of talent in the draft matters more than any one pick, but the Cubs left some seriously solid talent on the board to take Horton. I kinda hope they (1) liked him just about as much as the bats, and (2) have a sure-fire deal lined up to use slot savings on a top prospect that falls out of the first round. We’ll see later tonight.
More coming on Horton, because I gotta dig into some scouting reports quickly. Just wasn’t a guy I’d read a lot about before the draft. (SEE UPDATES BELOW)
Here’s Horton setting a record in this year’s College World Series:
UPDATES: Rounding up some of the instant reactions:
Obviously the Cubs were buying into the late breakout for Horton in a limited sample – sometimes that’s the risk you have to take to get a stud. Worth noting that Dan Kantrovitz (and Carter Hawkins) have been part of some excellent college pitcher drafts, getting studs where others didn’t see them.
All that said, this is a surprise. There’s not really a question about that, and it’s going to be on the Cubs to demonstrate through the rest of the draft that this was about optimizing the total talent return. Well, and also that Horton winds up being a stud. Because of the relatively recent Tommy John surgery and all the innings in college this year, he probably doesn’t pitch much, if at all, the rest of this season. So it’ll be a while before we really see him in action. I do like that he’s so young, though.
UPDATE 2: The instant reaction from Baseball America, as well as Horton’s pre-draft scouting report:
Instant Analysis: If you want a college pitcher this year early in the draft, you’re going to have to be able to swallow more risk than usual given the injuries that have taken a toll on that demographic. It’s an aggressive bet by the Cubs this high on the board on Horton, who missed the 2021 season due to Tommy John surgery and didn’t get many innings this year, but he was at his best down the stretch in June, throwing strikes with impressive stuff, moving up to No. 23 on the BA 500.
Scouting Report: Horton was a highly regarded high school prospect in the 2020 class, when he ranked as the No. 65 prospect on the BA 500 thanks to his two-way talents. Horton was a preseason All-American for his efforts on the mound and showed impressive ability as an infielder and hitter. On top of that, he was a standout high school quarterback who was committed to Oklahoma to play both sports. He went undrafted and made it to campus, and quickly started drawing rave reviews for his fall efforts in 2021. His 2021 season never happened, however, as Horton had Tommy John surgery. Now a draft-eligible sophomore, Horton didn’t get on the mound until late March—though he played plenty of third base and slashed .235/.323/.324 as a hitter—but he rocketed up draft boards with dynamic pitching performances and stuff that trended way up during the College World Series. Horton helped pitch the Sooners to the College World Series finals and in four June outings posted a 2.81 ERA while striking out 40 batters and walking just four. In June, he pitched with a 94-95 mph fastball that got up to 98 with high spin and impressive carry up in the zone. All of his pitches feature a high-spin profile, and he’s shown impressive feel to spin the baseball dating back to his prep days. He showed a harder slider in the mid 80s that got up to 90 mph late in the season, a pitch that earned double-plus grades and was used more frequently than his fastball. Horton will also throw a slower curveball around 80 mph, and that could be an above-average offering as well. He didn’t use a changeup much this spring, but he has a firm one in the upper 80s that flashes some downward movement and could be a real fourth pitch. Because Horton has just 53.2 innings under his belt, teams could vary on how far up the board they would select him, but he was getting consistent top-two round chatter in late June and plenty of scouts like his arm talent enough to put him in the first round.
Getting a biiiiiig high risk, high reward vibe. I guess I did say I wanted the Cubs to take a big swing?
Mixed. I have mixed feelings. Instant reactions can be like that.
UPDATE 3: I didn’t realize initially how much Horton played on the positional side this year (SS/3B). He played A LOT. Makes you wonder if part of the Cubs’ bet here is that he’ll take off even more when focusing solely on pitching. Means he’s a helluva good athlete, too.
UPDATE 4: I don’t know how many more updates I’ll do here before switching back into general draft mode, and then we’ll have MUCH more on Horton tomorrow. One parting(?) thought: I can get on board with the philosophy of this pick, believing that the way to nab the best pitcher in the draft is by getting a guy who wasn’t on enough radars – this high up, I mean – until so late in the process. That’s especially true if he comes in under slot, and you liked him as a sneaky top ten guy anyway. But when you’re picking seventh overall in a draft with this much talent up top, I just have to be honest: I hate taking on this much risk. If you’re gonna do it, you better be right.
UPDATE 5: Because Horton still had two years of eligibility remaining – instead of just one like most college picks – I realize now that the Cubs probably had to pay quite a bit more than you might expect to get him to sign. He might not be all that under slot.