Cade Horton Fantasy Baseball Preview

How valuable is Cubs RHP Cade Horton in Dynasty Leagues?

Despite struggling early on in his lone collegiate season (7.94 ERA in mid-May), Cade Horton’s electric run in the NCAA postseason, including a 13-strikeout masterpiece in the College World Series vs. Ole Miss, filled the Cubs with enough confidence to make him their top choice in the 2022 draft. When the right-hander was selected out of the University of Oklahoma with the 7th overall pick, Cubs fans were filled with mixed emotions. 

Cubs fans were initially off-put by Horton’s lack of track record in college. This was emphasized by the fact that other, more established college players were still on the board (Angels’ SS Zach Neto, Tigers IF Jace Jung). However, ever since debuting for the organization in 2023, Horton has made those original skeptics eat their words and then some. Horton has been electric, racing through the Cubs system behind a fastball and wipeout slider combo that has the starter on the fringes of being called up to Wrigley Field. 


Who is Cade Horton?


2023 Stats: (A/A+/AA) 88.1 IP | 2.65 ERA | 0.99 WHIP | 33.9 K% | 7.96 BB%

After being drafted in 2022, Horton was held out of action by the Cubs for the remainder of the season, keeping his long-awaited debut from taking place until after spring training in 2023. Debuting in and around the top 10 by various prospects lists (North Side Bound, Prospects 1500) and at #4 by Jim Callis during the 2023 preseason, Horton had high expectations going into his first season.  Horton has been projected as a top-of-the-rotation starter since arriving on the scene at the Cubs low-A team in Myrtle Beach. While with the Pelicans, Horton allowed just two runs across 14.1 innings and earned a promotion to High-A South Bend. 

Horton continued to impress throughout his meteoric rise through the Cubs system. In 11 games in South Bend, Horton adapted after a string of tough starts. He finished his time in High-A with 47 innings, striking out over 35% of batters and limiting his free passes to the tune of a 6.5% walk rate. This was around the time fans and scouts truly took note of Horton’s potential, and the Cubs followed suit, promoting him to Double-A.

As a Tennessee Smokie, Horton was downright dominant, allowing just four runs in 27 innings, and continued to show off his high strikeout rates (28.4%). His walk rate jumped slightly to just over 10%, but he was able to minimize the damage and keep runners from advancing and running up big innings on him. His strong 2023 season has put Horton in a position to start next year at AAA. There’s even a small chance that he could be knocking on the door of the Friendly Confines before long. 

The right-handed flamethrower was rewarded for his incredible season by being named the best Cubs minor league pitcher in 2023, and the full-season numbers show why. Among ALL minor league pitchers with more than 80 IP in 2023, Horton was just one of four pitchers with a strikeout rate over 32%, a walk rate below 10%, and an xFIP of below 4. The other three arms include the recently traded Drew Thorpe (SDP), Rockies #23 prospect Carson Palmquist, and Yankees righty Chase Hampton

The lone consistent concern regarding Horton is his longevity and durability as a starter. Horton has never reached the 7th inning in any of his professional starts. There is little doubt that his arsenal will hold up at the big league level, but if he’s unable to go deeper into starts his ceiling will be limited as a major league starter. 


Cade Horton’s Arsenal



In no uncertain terms, Horton’s fastball is MLB-ready. The right-hander’s four-seamer explodes out of the hand, and due to its slightly lowered release point, it seems to “rise” against hitters, causing big whiffs up in the zone. The velocity is where you want it to be for a front-of-the-rotation starter. He sits at 94-95 mph,  running it up to as high as 98 mph (per Baseball America). He’s able to keep the pitch in the zone for strikes but has been impressive at getting hitters to chase the pitch above the zone, almost at their shoulders. Fangraphs already has this offering as a 60-rated pitch, but when you take into account how the rest of the arsenal plays off of the heater, it could be graded even higher. 



Horton’s slider is the crown jewel of his repertoire. Scouts have been raving about the pitch ever since he was drafted. According to the Cubs’ Marquee Sports Network, the pitch has a 120 Stuff+ rating, and the eye test backs that up. Horton’s primary offspeed pitch looks like a sweeper but has more vertical depth than the average sweeper variation. His ability to throw the pitch on the inside corner to right-handers has been deadly thus far, as hitters simply can’t adjust to the slider while they’re already concerned about the upstairs fastball. The velocity on the offering just adds to the growing legend of Horton’s slider, as scouts have registered the pitch as high as 90 mph, which when parlayed with the movement he’s able to generate, makes it a real weapon. 



 The third piece of Horton’s arsenal puzzle is another plus breaking ball. While it is not as highly regarded as his slider, the curveball has the potential to be another stellar offering. While the slider utilizes both horizontal and vertical break effectively, the curveball has minimal horizontal action and instead relies on the deception it can create by purely working vertically. The lack of horizontal movement, in combination with the slight velocity difference (low to mid 80s in comparison to the high 80s slider) allows the curve to play off of the slider, creating lots of chases and whiffs at and below the bottom of the strike zone. Do not be fooled by the lower velocity, this pitch still has plenty of bite to it. With some more fine-tuning, it will be a legitimate weapon at the big league level. 



In comparison to the other three pitches in Horton’s repertoire, the changeup would be considered the ugly duckling. Not because this pitch is bad by any means, but that it is still a work in progress. Even still, it has the potential to be a fourth beautiful offering from the right-hander. Horton can generate a heavy amount of sink and fade on the pitch, as it dives away from left-handed hitters, getting a good amount of whiffs and chases down and away. As the tweet below illustrates, he’s operating a split-fingered grip that could do with some more tweaks, but he’s got time to perfect the offering before arriving at the major league level. 


Cade Horton’s Fantasy Outlook


Horton’s fantasy impact is hard to measure as things stand, as the Cubs have been active in free agency and the trade market in trying to improve their rotation to compete in 2024. The North Siders have been involved in the Jesús Luzardo and Shane Bieber rumors, and will likely not stop there in their efforts to take back the NL Central. In-house, Justin Steele, Jordan Wicks, and Kyle Hendricks will likely hold down 3 of the rotation spots, with GM Jed Hoyer working to fill the last two spots. Working off of the assumption that the Cubs will be buyers in the starting pitching market, innings may be limited for Horton. 

Horton’s value as a dynasty option is still incredibly high. His ability to punch out hitters and avoid giving up crooked numbers has been evident throughout his (albeit short) time in professional baseball. If he continues to impress, Hoyer and new manager Craig Counsell will be forced to take a long, hard look at whether or not their rotation would benefit from an injection of youth. I expect to see Horton at the Friendly Confines sometime in 2024 as an audition to lay claim to a permanent rotation spot in 2025. 

There is no doubt that Horton will make the big leagues at some point in the next two years, as he’s the best Cubs homegrown pitching prospect since arguably Kerry Wood. The only question that remains is when he will get the call. If you can still acquire Horton in your leagues, jump on him now before he makes the leap to AAA and even the MLB in 2024. 

Twitter: @jack_mueller15

Check out other Prospect Breakdowns on Pitcher List here:

Colt Emerson

Echedry Vargas

Coby Mayo


Jack Mueller

Jack Mueller is an incoming graduate student at Miami University studying Sport Management. Before joining PitcherList, Jack worked for the Orleans Firebirds (Cape Cod Baseball League) and the Chicago Dogs (American Association) as an advance scout and data analyst.

One response to “Cade Horton Fantasy Baseball Preview”

  1. Layton says:

    Can’t wait to see this guy at the federal landmark, great breakdown.

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