After spending the past two weeks telling you that I was 98% sure that the Cubs would take a position player, the Cubs took a pitcher that had been skyrocketing up draft boards near the end of the college baseball season.
Horton was a two-way player in high school who played third base as well as pitching. (Also he played quarterback for the football team.) He was projected to be a second-round pick out of high school, but he went undrafted because of a firm commitment to play for Oklahoma.
Unfortunately, Horton’s career with the Sooners got off to a late start because of Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the entire 2021 season. He started the season as the Sooners’ third baseman and didn’t take the mound until March 29. He struggled the first few starts back on the mound, but that’s to be expected coming back from surgery.
But as the season went on, Horton improved. His fastball began to hit 98 miles per hour and sit in the 94-to-95 range. He also has a slider that is considered plus-plus and has been clocked at 90 miles per hour. Horton has also worked on developing a cutter, which has made his four-seam fastball that much better.
All of this came to a head in the College World Series, where he was the ace for the runner-up Sooners team. In his four starts in June, Horton stuck out 40 batters and walked just four and posting a 2.81 ERA.
Horton has a curve and a changeup, but he hasn’t had to use it much in college baseball. The Cubs must be confident that they can turn at least one of those two pitches into at least a mid-average pitch. Otherwise, he’ll be vulnerable to left-handed hitters.
The Cubs statistical models on Horton no doubt picked up that he’s a spin-rate monster. His fastball has tremendous spin and his slider is just unfair. He’s also a draft-eligible sophomore who doesn’t turn 21 until next month. So the stat models that value age versus level certainly would look favorably on Horton.
As a two-way player and a high school quarterback, you can probably guess that the 6’1”, 211 pound Horton is a tremendous athlete. That is something that gets overlooked sometimes with pitchers, but some of the models say it can make a big difference.
This big issue on Horton is his inexperience. If he’s a late-bloomer who really did take a step forward at the end of the 2022 season, this is a great pick. Horton has shown the pitches and the size and athleticism to be a number 2 pitcher in the majors. Of course, that’s dependent on him developing a third pitch. He has a third and fourth pitch, but the Cubs must believe that they can make them better.
Certainly this is a bet on statistical models and the belief that the pitcher that Horton was at the end of the season is the pitcher he will be going forward. It’s also a bet on the Cubs’ pitching coaches ability to get the most out of him and the trainers’ ability to keep him healthy.
Is this an overdraft? Perhaps. Horton was expected to go somewhere in the 12-to-15 range, so the Cubs were reaching a bit. But he would not have been around in the second round and if the Cubs were really unexcited about the other players available at seven, then it makes some sense to gamble on a pitcher with high upside.
And to be sure, this is a gamble. Horton has a few question marks with his injury history and his inexperience. But those question marks can be positive factors as well. If Horton continues to build on his dominating performance in the College World Series, this will be a good pick.
And I please ask all of you to welcome Cade Horton to the Cubs family. And hope that he will be pitching at Wrigley sometime in the near future.
Here is Horton striking out a record 13 batters in the CWS finals versus Ole Miss. If you think that Horton can build on what he shows here, you can see why the Cubs wanted him.
And in the second round, the Cubs take left-handed pitcher Jackson Ferris out of IMG Academy in Florida. He’s a tall lefty at 6’4”, 195 pounds and originally from North Carolina. Ferris’ fastball clocks in at 93-95 miles per hour and can touch as high as 97. His mid-70s curve with a high spin rate is maybe his most promising pitch, although it’s not there yet. He also has a good changeup for a high school pitcher and a solid slider.
The downside on Ferris is that his motion is busy and his control comes and goes. The Cubs must believe that they can clean up his mechanics and unlock his full potential. He certainly has first-round stuff if he can control it.
Watching this video, you can see he’s a lanky guy with a motion that has his body fly all over the place. But you can also see the easy gas he throws. He certainly has a projectable body if he adds some weight and cleans up his delivery a little.
There are also a few Elijah Green highlights in this video, who was Ferris’ teammate at IMG.
Welcome Jackson Ferris to the Cubs Family!