Today, the Cubs announced that catcher Moises Ballesteros was the winner of the 2023 Buck O’Neil Cubs Minor League Player of the Year and that right-handed pitcher Cade Horton was the winner of the Vedie Himsl Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.
Ballesteros signed with the Cubs in 2021 as an international free agent out of Venezuela. He started this season in Low-A Myrtle Beach, where he finished the 2022 season. In 56 games there, Ballesteros hit .274/.394/.457 with 12 doubles and eight home runs. Most impressively, he walked 40 times with only 30 strikeouts with the Pelicans.
That earned Ballesteros a promotion to High-A South Bend, where he didn’t stop hitting. In another 56 games in the Midwest League, Ballesteros hit .300/.364/.463 with 15 doubles and six home runs. His strikeout/walk rate did tick up a bit there, with 22 walks compared to 45 strikeouts.
Ballesteros earned a late-season promotion to Double-A Tennessee for the Smokies title run after South Bend’s season ended. In five regular season games with the Smokies, Ballesteros went 5 for 21 with a walk and three strikeouts. But in the playoffs, Ballestros was 4 for 13.
Overall, Ballesteros hit .285/.374/.449 with 27 doubles and 14 home runs over 117 regular season games. And while Ballesteros isn’t known for his speed, he went a perfect 7-for-7 in steal attempts.
Baseball America currently ranks Ballesteros as the Cubs’ 12th-best prospect.
Cade Horton was the Cubs’ first-round pick (seventh overall) out of Oklahoma in 2022. Since he was coming off Tommy John surgery and a long run in the College World Series, the Cubs held off Horton’s minor league debut until this year.
Horton blew through Low-A Myrtle Beach after just four starts, allowing just two runs over 14 1⁄3 innings. That’s an ERA of 1.26. He struck out 21 and walked just four before he was promoted to High-A South Bend.
In the Midwest League, Horton made 11 starts and finished with a record of 3-3 and an ERA of 3.83. Over 47 innings, he struck out a whopping 65 batters and walked just 12. Opposing hitters hit just .203 against Horton.
Like Ballesteros, Horton was promoted to Double-A Tennessee for their stretch run. Horton made six starts for the Smokies and was 1-1 with a 1.33 ERA. In his 27 innings, Horton struck out 31 and walked 11. He held opposing hitters to a .188 batting average.
But Horton also made two crucial starts in the playoffs, including the title-clinching game in Pensacola. He won both of his starts, pitched ten innings and gave up just four hits and one run for an ERA of 0.90. Horton struck out 11 and walked four for the playoff run.
In total for his first regular season in the minors, Horton went 4-4 with a 2.65 ERA. He struck out 117 and walked just 27 in 88 1⁄3 innings. Baseball America ranks Horton as the number-two prospect in the Cubs system and the 17th-best prospect overall. Among pitchers, they only rank the Pirates’ Paul Skenes ahead of Horton.