Washington Nationals Prospect Spotlight: Cade Cavalli
This week's prospect spotlight turns to Cade Cavalli. The right-handed starting pitcher is Washington's 4th ranked prospect, according to mlb.com. Nationals fans saw a glimpse of Cavalli in D.C. last season when he made his Major league debut on August 26th versus Cincinnati. Although it wasn't his best effort, with 4.1 innings and seven earned runs, most cited that stat line due to nerves. The 2023 season is imperative for Cavalli, following being held out for the final month of the Major league season due to a shoulder injury.
Cavalli is healthy and ready to participate in his first Major league season. The right-hander has produced at each minor-league level and seems prepared to pitch in the big leagues. Although the debut was not one Nationals fans envisioned, there's still plenty of reason to be excited to see Cavalli pitch this season.
Cavalli is a really interesting prospect and has only been exclusively pitching since his junior year at the University of Oklahoma. He's a solid body on the mound, standing at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds. That muscle supplies his high-90s fastball. In his final two years as a Sooner, Cade was the Friday night starting pitcher, the highest rank for a pitcher on a college team. During Cade's first two seasons in Norman, he was a two-way player, seeing time on the mound and in the field. Cade had some power at the plate, slugging six home runs during his sophomore season, according to baseballreference.com. As his time at Oklahoma progressed, the fewer at-bats he saw and his time on the mound increased. The 2019 season was the highlight of Cavalli's pitching career at Oklahoma, starting 12 games with a 3.28 ERA in 60.1 innings, according to baseballreference.com. Due to COVID canceling the 2020 college season, Cavalli totaled just 87.2 innings pitched as a Sooner, marking him as a raw pitching prospect.
Pitching full-time was the correct decision for Cavalli. It led him to be the 22nd overall selection in the 2020 MLB Draft by the Nationals. The main attribute for Cavalli coming out of the draft is his electricity on the mound, in both his arsenal and demeanor. The right-hander pitches with some fire on the bump. The fastball is the best pitch of his five, which includes a 4-seam, 2-seam, curveball slider, and changeup. Cade has the ability to run the fastball up to 100 mph, as he did in the 2021 MLB Futures game.
As previously stated, Cavalli has succeeded at each minor league affiliate of the Nationals. The 2020 professional season was a wash due to COVID, so the first game action Cavalli got as a professional had to wait until 2021. He began the season in Wilmington and progressed to Rochester, compiling an ERA of 3.36 between the three affiliates. Cavalli's ERA would have been lower if it were not for the late-season struggles in AAA Rochester. In 24.2 innings Cade had a 7.66 ERA. This was the first team in his baseball career with which he had been hit that hard. Those struggles had scouts within the organization puzzled, and Nats fans worried about their 1st-round pick. Cavalli laid those worries to bed in 2022. In 97 innings pitched, Cade had a 3.71 ERA and 104 strikeouts, earning him the long-awaited call to the big leagues.
One of the few flaws in Cavalli's game is his walk rate. In 2021, Cade averaged 4.4 BB/9, a number on the high end for a starting pitcher. He lowered the rate to 3.6 in 2022 but still needs to get it down under 3.0 BB/9 to unlock more results on the mound. Giving batters free passes at the Major league level can only lead to bleak outcomes. If Cavalli improves the control of his pitches, he could tap into great future results.
Cavalli possesses the potential to be a frontline starting pitcher in a Major league rotation. His high-90s fastball paired with three off-speed pitches is a combination for success. Developing into an All-star caliber pitcher is not out of the question for Cade. The Nationals could have a new three-headed monster headlined by Cade Cavalli, Josiah Gray, and Mackenzie Gore. Not quite as intimidating as Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Patrick Corbin in their primes, but it's something for Nats fans to envision.
My 2023 predictions for Cavalli are 24 GS, 4.15 ERA, and 125 innings pitched with 130 strikeouts. The question for Cade is if he stays healthy for the entirety of the season. In a perfect world, he starts 30 games for the Nationals and throws 175 innings. Recency bias tells me that the Nationals are imperfect, and injuries have bit the team. Cavalli has 321.2 innings pitched between college and the minor leagues, so he's still relatively young as a pitcher. I would fully expect during 2023 that a turn in the rotation is skipped to maintain Cavalli's durability or the Nationals move to a six-man starting rotation. Maintaining health and developing valuable young assets is the most predominant task for the Nationals in the 2023 season. Watching the development of first-round pick Cade Cavalli is an exciting sight for Nationals fans.