Cade Horton named Cubs 'prospect to watch' heading into the summer

The general expectation remains the right-hander will make his big league debut at some point in 2024.

The Chicago Cubs have persevered in the season's first two months, overcoming injury after injury to stay within striking distance both in the NL Central and the larger playoff picture. That's due largely in part to the success of the starting rotation, which enters Tuesday's matchup with Atlanta with a 3.32 ERA, the third-lowest mark in the Senior Circuit.

Given that strength, one might think the organization will pump the brakes on the ascent of top pitching prospect Cade Horton, who has allowed 11 earned runs in 12 innings since earning a promotion to Triple-A Iowa. However, The Athletic (subscription required) instead tabbed him as the Cubs' 'prospect to watch' heading into Memorial Day weekend.

Earlier in the week, The Athletic labeled Horton as being 'right on track' in his efforts this year, pointing out that's due large in part to the hype he carried coming into 2024 as opposed to falling short in terms of individual performance on the mound. Both of these pieces suggest a Horton debut this summer as a strong possibility, as the Cubs look to punch their postseason ticket for the first time in a full season since 2018.

The 22-year-old right-hander picked up right where he left off to open the year in Double-A Tennessee, working to a 1.65 ERA in four starts with an impressive 18:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That was enough for Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins to move him to Iowa, where he's gotten off to a bumpy start.

It's clear Horton is still searching for his control at Triple-A, evidenced by a walk rate that's more than double his professional career average in three starts with the I-Cubs. He looked much stronger in his latest start, which could suggest he's beginning to get his feet under him in Des Moines.

Here's why Cade Horton will probably make his Cubs debut in 2024

So, why would the Cubs have their eye on Horton given how well the rotation has pitched? It's simple, really. The rotation has been solid, sure, but the bullpen has been a game of roulette on a nightly basis and manager Craig Counsell has been forced to heavily lean on two of his spot starters, Hayden Wesneski and Ben Brown, to keep things on an even keel.

In an attempt to keep his innings load manageable, Horton could slot in alongside them in the pen for his first big league campaign, giving the Cubs another high-powered arm to turn to in the mid-to-late innings. That's not to say he couldn't or wouldn't get the chance to start some games, too, but it's all about depth and Horton not only provides that, but has all the tools to be very impactful.

It's been seven weeks of piecing the pitching staff together for Counsell and the Cubs and, thanks to the rotation, the team is on solid footing heading into the final week of May. But make no mistake: it's a grind of a season and, assuming he avoids any setbacks, Horton has an important role to play at the big league level.