Cavalli talks four-pitch arsenal, goals for 2022 and more

March 15th, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Last year in the midst of his first Spring Training, was making as many headlines for his haircuts as his heaters.

Don’t worry, he still carries a personalized clippers bag (a gift from his girlfriend) with him into the clubhouse, but he’s known by Nationals fans for more than his clipper skills in this trip to West Palm Beach. He’s the organization’s top prospect. He’s one of two Nationals ranked among MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects. He’s the reigning Minor League strikeout leader, having fanned 175 across three levels last season. One title remains: Major Leaguer.

MLB Pipeline spoke with Cavalli at Nationals camp about his approach to his second Spring Training, his proximity to the Majors, his four-pitch arsenal and his hopes to be mentioned among the great’s hurlers.

Dykstra: This is your second Spring Training. This one's a little bit different than the one last year when you were a non-roster invite to Major League camp. This time, Minor Leaguers were here first. What is it like going through it this way?

Cavalli: You know, it's for sure different, but it's all good. It's the same game. We’re out here playing baseball and getting better. No matter where I am, I'm just going to keep that mindset. If it's in Minor League camp or big league camp, I'm just here to get better, and that’s it.

Dykstra: What is your mentality in a second Spring Training? Last year, you’re trying to introduce yourself to everybody. Now, everybody definitely knows who you are. What is it going to be like this time?

Cavalli: Honestly, I have the same mentality. I walk into every camp, and my plan is to make the team. My plan is to get better while I’m there. I'm just going to enjoy it all. I get to learn a lot. There are going to be a lot of guys that I can learn from in that clubhouse. Last year, I might not have been able to get as much conversation in with the big leaguers just because of COVID and we were in different groups and stuff. But I think this year, I’ll be mixed in a little bit more, get some more knowledge, get some experience and just get better. That's it.

Dykstra: You mentioned your goal is always to make the team. How much more realistic is this now after last year?

Cavalli: It feels realistic. I feel like if I go do my thing -- I can't control what happens, but I want to help the ballclub win. That's what I want to do, and if I can make the team, then it'd be awesome.

Dykstra: What did you learn about yourself in climbing three levels and reaching Triple-A, which was a bit of a speedbump?

Cavalli: I think I just have to fill the zone up. I have good stuff. Just need to keep filling the zone up, and I think good things are going to happen. I learned how to manage a year because the most I’d ever thrown, I think, was like 50-something innings in college, and that was in one year. Then, I threw around 150 last year, and I stayed healthy during it all, which was huge. I kind of learned how to treat my body and treat my mind and treat my work. I'm going to carry that into the season and keep growing and hope it works out.

Dykstra: In terms of pitching more in the zone, what adjustments do you feel like you needed to make, especially as you added so many innings?

Cavalli: Just sharpen up some stuff command-wise, and I think just getting on the mound, just getting that experience because I'm about three years into this pitching thing. I'm learning every time I go out there. So as much as I can touch that mound and see hitters, that experience just builds up and I get better and better each time.

Dykstra: You’re a four-pitch guy too. You have a slider. You have a curve. What goes into your decision-making on when to use one over the other? Is it feel? Is the batter’s swing?

Cavalli: Both of those come into play. You wish you could have all four pitches every single day. That's not the case. So it is on the feel of that day, and then also what that hitter hits. We have scouting reports, and we have numbers that show what breaking ball and what kind of shape will play against them best. Having that knowledge plays into the pitch calling.

Dykstra: Is there one of the two you feel most comfortable with right now?

Cavalli: No, I feel really comfortable with my slider and curveball right now. So I’m pumped about that. The shape is really good. I’ve been working on the shape of the curveball these last couple of bullpens. I’m really liking it. I’m excited.

Dykstra: You’ve been here for about a month with a lot of other big names in the system. This system is in a rebuild. How much do you guys talk about that?

Cavalli: We're not talking about it a whole lot. I think that the beautiful thing about this organization is we really enjoy each other. We're a very tight-knit family. It feels like family here. We're all really close. We hang out outside the field. Honestly, it feels like I'm on a college team again. I'm hanging out with my boys every day. We get to come to the field and play some ball. We try to get better at it, and we let the results be the results. Obviously, we are in a rebuilding stage. But we want to win. We want to win here. That's a culture we want to be a part of, and that's what we're trying to build.

Dykstra: The organization does have a lot of new faces after last year’s Trade Deadline. How do you introduce yourself to a new guy?

Cavalli: Just walk up to him with a simple handshake and maybe ask if they need a haircut. I just did a couple of haircuts just now. It's fun.

Dykstra: Earlier, you mentioned your history as a two-way player at Oklahoma. The universal DH is here.

Cavalli: I miss hitting.

Dykstra: So do you think you’d go up to Davey Martinez and ask him to just give you one at-bat?

Cavalli: I wish. I won’t ever do that. We’ve got a lot of guys that hit better than me, that’s for sure.

Dykstra: Well, let’s say you were a Double-A hitter right now. How would you do?

Cavalli: I think that if I worked on it, I would handle myself pretty well. Honestly out of high school and even in college, I didn't think I was going to be a pitcher. I always thought I was going to be a hitter. So I feel like if I really put my mind to it, I feel like I have the ability to do it. But hitting is hard.

Dykstra: Well, how would Cade Cavalli the hitter do against Cade Cavalli the pitcher?

Cavalli: I think I would not do good as Cade Cavalli the hitter. … I could make contact. I don’t think I would have a lot of success.

Dykstra: Finally, establishing comps can be tough for evaluators because they set expectations. But in terms of how you see yourself, who is a good comp for you?

Cavalli: I say this very humbly, but I feel like I'm going to be right along with Gerrit Cole, deGrom, Scherzer. 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.