Watching the first round of the MLB Draft, many fans were shocked when a RHP from Oklahoma, Cade Horton became the Cubs selection at seven. After all, this was a draft where the national narrative was about the weakness of the college pitching group. Many fans had already penciled in names like Brooks Lee, Zach Neto, Kevin Parada, or Cam Collier into hypothetical Cubs prospect rankings. Cade Horton was a shocking, but exciting selection.
Cade Horton is a pitcher who showed frontline starter qualities. His dominating run from the Big 12 Championship all the way to the College World Series became must-see events. Now that the dust settled, I became fascinated with diving into how the Cubs decided to ultimately make Horton the selection. Chicago Cubs VP of Scouting Dan Kantrovitz was generous in obliging my intrigue. Thank you to Dan for taking a few moments out of his busy schedule to discuss the details.
Interview with Dan Kantrovitz:
Greg Zumach: I know that we’re really early on in the post draft and the signing phase. But I have to admit one player that it goes without saying really, really well. I’ll admit maybe have more of a surprise on my end with the Cade Horton selection. It was something that leading into the draft I guess just internally, myself and externally, I was hearing other things that it’s probably going to be a bat and there were some really fantastic players on the board but as more and more stuff that’s come out and obviously with the selection being Cade a right handed pitcher from college, I was wondering if anything you can share on the background on like how that came to be.
Dan Kantrovitz: Now that the ink is dry, I can be probably a little more open about it than I was able to do prior to the official signing. Backing up to probably March when he made his first outing this year on the mound, I got a text from Ty Nichols, our Area Scout. He had seen [Horton] and he said “Hey DK, Cade is a bad man”. I’ll never forget that because we’d been talking about Cade for a while, really ever since we’d been at his house in high school. Just following him since, we were pretty excited to see him get out on the mound. It was highly anticipated on our end. Though, I’m thinking to myself, “Okay, well, let’s just take a step back here. It’s one short outing”. Though I will say we also had some scouts run in there after Ty and the reports basically echoed what Ty was saying [that there] was just there’s something special here and he’s just shaking off some rust. I wouldnt guess that was too far from what the industry was probably thinking either. I mean, if this guy goes back to school, he ends up probably being in the top five or 10 on the 2023 draft board from a publication standpoint. So I think there was a bit more buzz in the industry than maybe out of it but in any case, we did still have some questions at that point. I kept in mind [Cubs 2021 first round pick] Jordan Wicks and a few others who Ty recommended…he just has a really keen eye for pitching. We’d been studying every outing up to that point so there had been a lot of conversations about him – but publicly the narrative started to change when he began consistently dominating really good hitting teams..it was like Texas, Florida, VA Tech. He just mowed those teams down…I remember thinking “holy [crap]”, his stuff is just getting better and better…and its still not where we think it’ll end up.
Dan Kantrovitz: You see this hellacious slider that he’s started to break out. We’ve [all] read about how he picked that up and incorporated so quickly. There was an electric heater and a developing feel for a change of pace pitch that moves away from lefties…At that point, after some prodding from Ty, I’m thinking time is running out and we need to prioritize getting a few more of us back into see him in person. So we’re like four or five days into the combine. It’s a pretty long, drawn-out affair. Ty is in my ear and we’ve all got these images of Cade’s nasty breaking ball just buckling knees. So I left that (the MLB Draft Combine) maybe two days early and still remember getting a text from one of our scouts from the Combine [saying] “Where did you go?”. And I texted back and just said “Omaha”. He gave me a wink response realizing it was for Cade. At that point, Cade had potentially two starts left (Notre Dame and Ole Miss). Thinking back to those 2 Starts and re-watching them kindof gives you goosebumps…I mean with good hitters walking back to the dugout having looks on their face like “what the hell just happened?. What did I just see?” At that point, putting everything together, we didnt have a scout that thought he shouldnt be in the mix at 7. I mean, he had been on the peripherary most of the spring so it wasnt like this huge leap but it was clear we had to sit down with Jed and Carter and continue to really flush this one out
Dan Kantrovitz: Two important things happened when I got back in the office following the College World Series. Bres (Cubs VP of Pitching, Craig Breslow) and I had communicated throughout the spring about all the arms and we both kind of independently were curious about the other’s opinions on Cade. Continuing to dig into the data, we were both fairly intrigued and really never stopped talking about Cade as a possibility. And then fast forward to draft meetings, where various scouts are introducing their players. Ty opens up with his introduction on Cade wit the first thing out of his mouth being “I’d take this guy at seven”. At this point, I’m already all-in on the concept of considering Cade up top. So, when Ty said that, it was kind of music to my ears. And I glance over at Bres and I see him smiling too. Unfortunately Jed (Hoyer) hopped out of the room to take a call. So I was like “Okay, time out. Let’s come back to it” because I wanted Jed in the room to hear Ty’s presentation. We actually tabled it to the next morning. Then we open up a discussion on Cade and Ty started over. From that point on, if he wasn’t already, Cade was solidly in the mix.
Greg: That’s awesome and I think that’s kind of a very intriguing situation. I certainly won’t ask you who would you take in if he wasn’t there? But I do have the question of were you at all concerned that Cade wasn’t going to be there at seven or did you still feel like “You know what? I think we feel pretty good. We’ve got other options. If that doesn’t work out”.
Dan Kantrovitz: There was a nonzero chance that he wasn’t going to be there. We also suspected there was quite a bit of action on him right behind us too. But, we had other options too, other players on the board. we’d never put ourselves in a situation where its like “this guy or bust”. In our view, he was the best available option, where our scouting evaluation of him aligned with the financial valuation, while also setting us up to collect more talent with subsequent picks. What he’s capable of doing is commensurate with the best in the class. As excited as we are about him, he’s obviously gonna be somebody that needs some time considering his workload. Wouldnt be surprised if he emptied the tank with a few of those 100+ pitch outings. So, I wouldnt be surprised if our pitching folks take it slow initially. I don’t think anybody’s gonna try to attach a timetable to it and we’ll be patient. But, he’s pretty exciting.
Thank you to Dan for taking the time. I hope to dive further into the draft class with him as more signings become official and these players become members of the Cubs organization.