I was a little tenuous to do a post about Cade Horton. Even though I wrote a profile of him back in July , I wasn’t sure how to write about a player for 2023 who did not pitch at all for the Cubs last year after he was in his first season back from Tommy John surgery at Oklahoma last spring.

For Horton, his season changed on a dime in 2022 when he learned a new slider. He only appeared in 14 games, 11 of which were as a starting pitcher. In 53.2 innings, he struck out 64, most of them seemed to come during the College World Series run. So, after signing, the Cubs did not have Horton pitch at all considering that he was coming back from Tommy John.

He’s not going to pitch 120-140 innings this year, but there are some markers and some stats it would be good to set. It’ll be interesting to see just exactly how the Cubs coach him up to take his mid 90s fastball and his plus-plus slider and to add something to it this winter. The Cubs were said to be working on a new curve and change with him. Even though Horton changed quite a bit last year as a pitcher, he could do more in 2023.

He is a first round pick and that comes with its own set of standards, but he’s not fully formed as a pitcher – far from it. This is not a hype piece with superstar dominant numbers. Instead, these are goals that fit with his past levels of performance and improve on those levels based on his CWS run.

Let’s take a look at five numbers for him to shoot for in 2023. We will deal with whether he should begin South Bend or Myrtle Beach in a later post.

1. 80 to 100 Innings

Even though this is year two post Tommy John for Horton, the Cubs will be extremely cautious with Horton and his transition to full-time pitching. Here’s the thing that people forget is that he was a two-way player at Oklahoma. His arm is probably not used to the stress of being a full time pitcher just yet. 80 to 100 innings would be good. Although I think they’re going to go more towards the south end of that number. Whether the Cubs keep him on a short leash in April and May, that’s a different story but I would not be surprised.

2. 1.33 Ks per inning

This is a good goal for him to shoot for in terms of striking out batters per inning. However, his slider is going to miss a lot of bats in Class A. When he gets to Tennessee, it should drop a little bit. If you think about the best strikeout rates in the Cubs’ system, those come from relievers that are striking out 14 or 15 batters per nine innings of work. I’m not expecting Horton to be that kind of starting pitcher. He’ll be good, but I’m not expecting him to come out and just annihilate the minors. It would be cool if he did, though.

3. 3.00 to 3.25 ERA

This isn’t anything that’s going to be out of the realm of possibility for him. As a first round pick, it would not be out of the question for him to have a sub 3.00 ERA. But there’s also a learning curve that’s going to happen. Class-A has some good hitters that are coming into their own. It’s not the competition he’s going to see at Double-A, but there’s still going to be guys that can get to him, especially if he makes mistakes.

4. 4.00 BB/9 or Less

At Oklahoma, Horton walked 2.5 batters per nine innings. To say that he can maintain that BB/9 ration is a pretty reasonable expectation especially if you add in the fact that he’s probably going to be working on some things those first few months. His objective is not to come out and throw six innings every night. He just needs to improve as a pitcher and to do that he needs to work on location, keeping hitters of balance, and creating the best possible movement with his pitches. If he can walk less and strike out 12/9, that’s a nice 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio. I’ll take that every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

5. .200 or Under

This is what his batting average against should be close to. If his slider is as good as advertised, this is not going to be a problem. If he develops an additional out pitch, then this will be an extremely reasonable goal.

If Horton meets goals 4 of the five goals in the first half, he should move fast. 

Other 5 Series Posts

Pete Crow-Armstrong
Owen Caissie
Ben Brown
Luis Verdugo
Cade Horton
Kohl Franklin
Riley Martin
Sheldon Reed
Daniel Palencia
and more