Chicago Cubs Prospects: Best way to improve the rotation may not be through trade

Chicago Cubs' 2022 first round draft pick, Cade Horton, may offer the highest upside to improve as the trade deadline nears.

The Chicago Cubs are playing great baseball right now despite the injuries to key players they’ve faced early and often in the 2024 season. Every good team looks to get better when the trade deadline rolls around though and the Cubs should be no different.

There have been a fair few names bantered around. Before he was lost to the season with an elbow injury, Shane Bieber was heavily linked to the Cubs and now that the Astros may be sellers by the time the deadline rolls around, Justin Verlander looks like he may make sense as a target.

The bullpen has been an area of need and at various points in time, the crosstown rival Michael Kopech was viewed as an option but he’s been mediocre. Emmanuel Clase is another player that’s been heavily rumored but with the Cleveland Guardians looking like a playoff team it seems unlikely they’ll look to deal one of their best players. 

If Bieber is hurt, Verlander is too old, Clase is too hot and Kopech is too cold then who is a player that is just right for the 2024 Chicago Cubs?

The easy in-house answer? Top pitching prospect Cade Horton

Cubs pitching prospect Cade Horton was exceptional in 2023, pitching to a 2.65 ERA at three different levels with 117 strikeouts and just 27 walks in 88.1 innings pitched.

He began the season at Double-A Tennessee this year and in his four starts there he’s mustered a 1.10 ERA with 18 strikeouts and 2 walks over 16.1 innings pitched. In his last start he struck out six and didn't walk anyone over five scoreless innings. That was enough to warrant a promotion to Triple-A Iowa, putting the Cubs' top arm one step from the bigs.

The Cubs have had a considerable amount of young pitchers help the team this season. Daniel Palencia and Luke Little have been valuable arms out of the bullpen getting shuttled back and forth between Iowa and Chicago, and Hayden Wesneski, Ben Brown, Javier Assad and Jordan Wicks have all stepped up to start games, but none of them have the upside that Horton can offer.

Shota Imanaga has been the best pitcher in Cubs’ history to start his career, Justin Steele should be back soon, Jameson Taillon has been significantly better than his 2023-self, and Kyle Hendricks can’t be much worse than he’s been so far this season. 

If the Cubs can add Cade Horton to that rotation without dealing any prospect capital in the process, that is a massive win for the long-term depth of this franchise and he may be a better short-term option than anyone that’s going to be available anyway.