Nats' No. 4 prospect Cavalli 'looking good' after Tommy John

February 16th, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It has been almost one year since Cade Cavalli walked off the mound in Port St. Lucie during a Spring Training game against the Mets with a right elbow injury that would require Tommy John surgery and sidetrack his aspirations for his first full season in the Major Leagues. This week, the 25-year-old reported to Nationals camp optimistic with the progress he has made toward his return.

“Arm’s been responding well, so I’m very grateful,” Cavalli, ranked as the Nats’ No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, said. “That’s all I can say, very grateful.”

Cavalli completed three bullpen sessions this week. The initial plan is to throw 20 pitches at higher intensity on Mondays and Fridays, and 15 pitches at lower intensity on Wednesdays.

“We have a great staff here that gives their opinion on things to be able to transfer into this rehab process, so that we can clean up some movements and just try to take a little stress off the arm,” he said. “And I feel like we’ve done a great job of that and are just going to continue to work that way.”

Cavalli had been an anticipated member of the Nationals’ rotation since the team drafted him 22nd overall out of the University of Oklahoma in 2020. He made his Major League debut on Aug. 26, 2022, and he was on track to be named the fifth starter for the ’23 season before the injury occurred on March 14.

Following surgery, Cavalli rehabbed at the Nationals’ training complex last year. He made trips throughout the season to join the club, an opportunity for Cavalli to continue building chemistry and for the staff to get eyes on him. He spent the offseason progressing in West Palm Beach, with time at home in Tulsa, Okla., for the holidays.

“I had been working with [assistant strength and conditioning coach] Tony [Rogowski] on the turf mound out there, so the slope wasn’t foreign to me, which was great,” Cavalli said following his second bullpen session. “I think that helped a lot in the transition of getting to the slope. It adds just four more degrees of stress to the elbow. So that night, I felt a little bit more sore than normal. And I woke up [after the first bullpen session] feeling great.”

The estimated recovery time for Cavalli’s injury is around 14 months, but he nor the team are getting caught up on specific dates.

“I think he’s on track,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “His progression has been great. He’s a diligent worker, and he’s a really good patient. He follows the protocol to the T, and our guys always know you’re going to have to pull him back a little bit. He follows them up to the edge, and we pull him back a little bit. That’s how I think we want our guys. We want them [champing] at the bit, and we want to pull them back and tell them to trust us enough to know what’s in your best interests.

“You look at him, he’s strengthened every part of his body, including his elbow. I think he’s looking forward to teeing it up and getting ready to go. I’m sure looking forward to seeing him pitch. I think he’s going to help us immensely, one of those starting pitchers we all covet.”

The fierce competitor in Cavalli, who advanced from High-A to Triple-A in a single season in 2021, has learned to prioritize patience in his progress.

“I think you have to have your end goal in mind, as always, and then prepare your mind to wake up every day and say, ‘I’m going to attack whatever is ahead on this day. Make the next best choice today,’” he said. “... This game teaches a lot about life, and that’s just really how I’ve been living."

Cavalli was enthusiastic after throwing his third bullpen session Friday, watched closely by team staff including manager Dave Martinez and pitching strategist Sean Doolittle.

“He’s been looking good,” Martinez said. “You look at him, and you think, ‘What was wrong with him?’ We’ve still got a long way to go, but he’s progressing. He’s on the right track, so hopefully we’ll get through this and we’ll see him help us this year.”