Did the Cubs Move Too Early on Cade Horton, or Did They Actually Get Really Lucky on the Timing?

I’m not going to say these are the last bits this week on top Chicago Cubs draft pick Cade Horton – it is a pretty important pick! – but it might wrap up the initial wave of info-dumping about the soon-to-be new Cubs pitching prospect. I say soon, because the next bit of news will be when he officially signs.

In the meantime, I wanted to share more from Chicago Cubs VP of Scouting Dan Kantrovitz on the surprising selection, and why the Cubs were so eager to take Horton well before his middle-to-back-of-the-first projections.

“His performance throughout the year continuously improved, which was consistent with the timeline of somebody coming back from Tommy John surgery,” Kantrovitz said of Horton, per The Athletic. “What we started to see towards the end of the season with his performance in the College World Series was indicative of, I think, the Cade Horton that we’re going to see in the future.

“I also don’t think we’ve seen the best of him. It’s one instance, ironically, where having a little bit later draft probably worked to our advantage, in the sense that I don’t think we probably would have had the opportunity to really see him at his best — and have the confidence to take him as high as we did — had the draft been a month ago ….

“You have to try to put everything in context. He was on that upward trajectory all season. If you isolate the last few starts, it was consistent with somebody that learned a new pitch. In his case, it was a wipeout slider. Once we saw he had the feel for that, we saw a little bit more giddy-up on his fastball at the same time and some improved control, which is consistent, again, with somebody that was rehabbing initially and then really coming into his own . It’s indicative of a situation where you want to just make sure you’re taking everything into account and waiting as long as you can make a decision.”

Maybe in the years ahead, we’ll come to say the Cubs bought into Horton way too quickly. Or, if he becomes the pitcher they believe he can, we might instead say they got lucky that the draft was later and his breakout was so brief.

As we’ve said, Horton, 20, is also a young pitcher who played football at high school, and was a near full-time position player as recently as this year. There was only a very brief window where he was fully focused on pitching, and healthy, and using his slider. That’s the period of time when he exploded.

Sure enough, that explosion, which corresponded with the addition of the slider and simply a little more time in his ramp up back from Tommy John surgery, was significant:

If you were curious about splits, since he really struggled against lefties if you just look at the top-line numbers, they were also completely transformed after the slider was added:

These are all exceedingly small samples, and I think the various is probably all the more extreme since they are based in a large part on a pitch Horton JUST added. On the one hand, that’s a huge compliment to his ability to take something he learned immediately into a game and use it (that’s incredibly rare), but it also feels like a risk factor since it’s not like it’s a pitch he’s had comfortably established ( or that anyone could have scouted) for years.

In other words, I think it would be a huge mistake to look at Horton’s post-slider-addition performance and say, see, clearly the Cubs stole a top 50 pitching prospect. He might become that guy. But when he gets to pro ball, there will need to be work to make his pitches more consistent, and to add a truly effective third pitch. The low mileage is good. The velocity is really good. And the slider clearly can be a plus-plus pitch. But the Cubs were looking at a longer timeline on this pick, because they want all that upside.

For a deep dive on Horton, if you missed it, Bryan watched everything there was to see and gave the scouting report here.

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