What to expect from Cade Cavalli? 'Cole, deGrom, Scherzer'

August 25th, 2022

It was not a cocky answer. We should be clear of that up front. It was a confident answer, and yes, there is a difference.

Back in March and April, members of the MLB Pipeline team did Spring Training Q&As with one prospect from each of the 30 farm systems, checking in before the long season ahead. We had one question we agreed we would ask every player, so long as time allowed.

“Who is a good comp for you?”

Cade Cavalli came prepared.

“I say this very humbly, but I feel like I'm going to be right along with Gerrit Cole, deGrom, Scherzer,” he said from West Palm Beach. “And I fully believe that. I feel like I have the stuff. I feel like I have the mind. If I just take care of my body and take care of my work, I think it's going to be right around there. That’s what I plan to do.”

On Friday, MLB Pipeline’s No. 58 overall prospect will take a massive step torward toward becoming one of the game’s best aces. The Washington right-hander will make his Major League debut against the Reds at Nationals Park, the club announced this week.

The promotion certainly comes at a good time for Cavalli.

The 24-year-old hurler experienced command issues earlier in the season during his second trip to Triple-A Rochester. He opened the season with a 7.62 ERA through his first seven starts with the Red Wings. Constant focus on hitting his spots has led to a much more efficient and effective Cavalli of late, and he heads to DC with a 1.47 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 43 strikeouts in his last seven outings (36 2/3 innings).

The quality of the 2020 22nd overall pick’s stuff has never been in question.

In his last start at Worcester on Saturday, he touched as high as 99 with his fastball and was typically around 95-97 with the heater throughout the five-frame outing. The Nationals have talked about getting Cavalli to throw his plus curveball more because he typically lands it better for strikes and gets more separation on it from the slider, and that was evident in the 11-strikeout performance against Norfolk on Aug. 13 (as seen at the top of this page). That said, the mid-80s slider looked like a more consistent offering against Worcester as Cavalli used it to dive away from righties and backfoot lefties.

An 88-91 mph changeup rounds out the four-pitch mix, and while it got whiffs against a lefty-heavy WooSox lineup, Cavalli did have a habit of missing his spots to the armside with the offering.

All told, those are four quality pitches that keep hitters at every level guessing and off-kilter. To that point, Cavalli, who led the Minors with 175 strikeouts across three levels last season, ranks fourth among all Triple-A qualifiers with a 25.9 percent K rate in 2022.

While his 9.7 percent walk rate is a touch high but manageable, it’s important to differentiate between control and command when talking about the hurdles in front of the former University of Oklahoma star.

Cavalli’s troubles don’t necessarily start when the walks pile up. They come when at-bats get extended as batters learn to lay off his pitches around the zone. In that Worcester start alone, he used six or more pitches against 10 of the 21 batters he faced, including a pair of nine-pitch plate appearances. That led to a season-high 109 pitches in only five innings. That issue may only be exacerbated against even more patient Major Leaguers moving forward.

To Cavalli’s credit, he is not your typical weathered Triple-A pitcher in his mid-20s. The Oklahoma native began his time with the Sooners as a two-way player and admitted in that Spring Training interview that he expected to be more of a hitter when he first arrived on campus. His breakout on the mound came in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, when he was robbed of additional meaningful innings, and even as he was racking up K’s last year, he was still making up for lost mound time compared to some of his peers.

The bumps in the road were likely going to be part of the process, and with his recent improvements, Cavalli has shown in flashes just how dominant he can be when he is on top of his stuff.

The next Cole, deGrom or Scherzer? That’s to be determined. For now, the Nationals will take the best version of Cavalli they can get as they lock in another key piece of their future rotation.