Cade Horton already has some background knowledge about the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs picked Horton, an Oklahoma right-hander who was selected with the No. 7 pick in the MLB Draft. One of Horton’s first calls Sunday night as a member of the organization went to Cubs prospect Ed Howard.
Horton kept in touch with Howard after playing together in MLB’s Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) league during the summer before their junior year of high school. They almost met again in college. Howard committed to Oklahoma in 2020 before signing with the Cubs as the 16th pick.
Going into the draft, Horton said the Cubs were “definitely on the radar.” He watched the draft with his family and high school and college mates at his home in Norman, Okla.
“It’s madness. It doesn’t feel real,” Horton said on a video conference call Sunday night. “I’m so blessed to be in this position and ready to go to work.”
When it came time for the Cubs to pick their first round, they could pick one of the top hitters available. They went with Horton instead.
“All year we noticed that there were some pitchers that stood out and were probably changing that narrative a little bit in terms of being a high school hitter-heavy draft,” Cubs vice president Dan Kantrowitz said on a video call Sunday. night. “The industry may have thought a little differently in terms of whether the strength is running out, at the end of the spring.”
When Horton was deciding whether or not to drop out of high school in 2020, Kantrowitz and the Cubs were one of the teams to visit the home before the pandemic. When Kantrowitz called to congratulate Horton on Sunday night, he asked if Horton remembered that visit from more than two years ago. Horton replied, “Absolutely.”
“It’s good to hear and keep that connection going,” Kantrowitz said. “Creating the history of a player like this also made us believe that we had a great deal of control over his makeup as well.”
Horton is the Cubs’ highest draft pick since taking on Kyle Schwarber with a fourth pick in 2014. The Cubs were first selected at No. 7 twice: in 1974 he drafted outfielder Scott Thompson (626 major-league games, minus -5.7 WAR, third). in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 1979) and in 1976 he took on right-hander Hermann Segelke (three games, minus -0.1 WAR).
Baseball America ranked Horton the 23rd best player in the draft, while MLB.com ranked him 24th. Horton appears to be an underslot pick – Number 7 is valued at $5,708,000 – with the Cubs saving money to use on other players.
Kantrowitz indicated that the Cubs targeted Horton and second-round pick (No. 47) Jackson Ferris, a left-hander at IMG Academy in Florida, to potentially spread the bonus pool money around.
“It’s over,” Kantrowitz said.
Prior to the draft, Kantrowitz called the Cubs’ bonus pool figure “exciting” and hoped it would give the organization “ammunition” to land some better players in the top 10 rounds.
The Cubs have the 10th highest bonus pool ($10,092,700).
“Now we have to try to figure out how we’re going to optimize our whole draft,” Kantrowitz said last week. “It plays into the calculus of each pick. Who are we going to choose, how much are we going to pay them. And at the end of the day, we want the best draft to be based on, hopefully, 20 players signed. But it has to be in the context of the overall pool.”
Ferris, 18, was transferred to IMG Academy before his junior year and is coming off a senior season in which he scored a 1.33 ERA (eight earned runs in 54⅓ innings) in 10 outings. The 6-foot-4 lefty hit 103 hitters for 17.1 strikeouts per nine innings, while keeping opponents at .142 batting average and .203 on-base percentage.
Baseball America ranked Ole Miss Signie Ferris as the number 34 prospect in the draft, and MLB.com ranked her at number 19. Kantrowitz doesn’t expect any signal issues with the Ferris.
“Jackson is unique in that he’s got a four-pitch mix right now, and he throws them all in one game,” Kantrowitz said.
The emergence of a slider at the end of the 2022 season became a game changer for Horton. He first demonstrated this during the Big 12 tournament and noticed that his use produced more jerks and strikes.
Horton, who turns 21 the following month, had Tommy John surgery in 2021 ahead of his freshman season in Oklahoma. As a redshirt freshman this year, he posted a 4.86 ERA, 1.30 WHIPs, 64 strikeouts and 15 walks in 53⅔ innings in 14 games (11 starts).
“Adversity makes us who we are, and I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is how to be a good partner,” Horton said of undergoing surgery. “I’ve always been that guy who’s never really sat on the bench. I’ve always played there, and that injury forced me to sit on the bench and so I had to learn when things weren’t going so well So how about pushing other people.”
The Sooners made it to the finals of this year’s College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Horton impressed in Game 2 against eventual champion Ole Miss, allowing two runs and four hits in 7⅓ innings with no walks and 13 strikeouts in a 4–2 loss.
“It’s awesome to be able to be on that platform,” Horton said. “You talk about adrenaline and I wanted to calm myself more than anything so I could take it one pitch at a time and just hit one target and that’s what I wanted to do on that certain pitch. I can focus on that.”
Horton also appeared in 50 games for Oklahoma as a hitter, including 25 starts at third base, four at shortstop and 11 as a designated hitter. He believes his experience playing infield helps him catch runners on base and understand how hard it is to hit.