Cade Horton verbally committed to the University of Mississippi to play baseball the summer following his freshman year of high school in 2017. But when a unique opportunity presented itself about one year later, Horton changed his mind.
University of Oklahoma’s baseball program expressed interest in Horton, a right-handed pitcher and shortstop, early in the recruiting process. But when OU football coach Lincoln Riley started recruiting Horton, it caused him to reconsider his commitment and led to him decommitting from Ole Miss in summer 2018.
Horton, a Norman, Oklahoma native, announced his commitment to the Sooners as a two-sport athlete Jan. 15, 2019, and officially signed his national letter of intent Dec. 18. It was a special opportunity that Horton couldn’t pass up, he said.
“It’s honestly who I’ve been and what I’ve done my entire life,” said Horton on being a two-sport athlete. “I’ve done it since I was 5. Right now at the amateur level, it’s pretty easy to do. I don’t touch a baseball during the football season, and I don’t touch a football during baseball season. That’s really how I’ve managed it.”
Horton’s competitiveness drives him to excel in both sports. He understands the rare situation he has in front of him to play baseball and football at the Power Five level, but there’s a chance he never dons the crimson and cream paraphernalia.
Horton is one of the top high school baseball players in the country and considered a top-50 prospect for June’s MLB draft.
If a major league team steps up and entices him with a large signing bonus, would he give up the chance to be a two-sport athlete for his hometown university? Right now, Horton isn’t focused on what lies ahead over the next six months and is trying to keep the same approach that’s allowed him to thrive his first 3½ years as a high school athlete.
“I just put it to the side,” said Horton on the MLB draft. “I realize it’s there, but I try to ignore it because if I get caught up in all of that stuff, I will become complacent and that’ll be my downfall because I will lose focus of achieving my goals.”
Horton has all the skills defensively to play shortstop and possesses power potential and an ability to use all fields as a right-handed hitter. Although he’s a legitimate prospect at shortstop, professional scouts prefer him as a right-handed hurler.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound righty throws a four-seam fastball, slider and changeup from a three-quarters arm slot out of a low-effort delivery that features a fast arm action. He has solid command with all three pitches.
All three pitches are at least average offerings with his fastball being his top pitch. He consistently throws his fastball in the low-90s and occassionaly touches 96 mph.
His slider is his top secondary pitch and is typically his go-to outpitch.
“I am able to throw my slider in any count and locate it and take speed off and put speed on,” Horton said. “That’s probably my biggest strength.”
Scouts believe once Horton focuses solely on pitching that his skills on the mound will be even better.
Although Horton’s changeup is advanced for a prep hurler, he’s focused on refining the offering this offseason in hopes of developing a better feel and more consistency with the pitch to throw it for strikes at a higher percentage this spring.
“It’s just a matter of being a feel pitch,” Horton said. “When I am warming up, I will play long toss with it. I do that so I can really feel it out. It’s just being able to locate it is the big thing. I realize that playing against these high school hitters that it would be easier to throw a fastball, but when I get into upper levels, having that pitch and being able to throw it will really payoff for me.”
During his senior season of football at Norman High this past fall, Horton passed for 3,084 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushed for 1,149 yards and 15 scores.
If Holton declines a chance to start a pro baseball career, he will be the third player in recent memory to play baseball and football for Oklahoma. Cody Thomas and Kyler Murray each competed in both sports, which allowed Horton to see how Riley and baseball coach Skip Johnson handle the situation.
“People don’t get too many opportunities like that so I thought it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Horton said. “It was just a matter of there’s nothing cooler than being a hometown kid. I wanted to experience that.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for five years. He’s interviewed 191 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.