Cade Cavalli thinks back to the thousands of swings he took in hopes of one day becoming a big league player. He's reached that goal, only now he's facing hitters from the mound, not the other way around.
“It’s crazy that I’m a pitcher now, because I’ll talk to my dad and I’ll be like, ‘Man, we spent hours in the cages every night for years on years, and I’m pitching now,’” Cavalli said during MLB’s Rookie Program. “We aren’t doing what we were working on, so it’s funny.”
It’s a good funny -- that kind of “he became a Major League first-round Draft pick as a standout right-hander” kind of funny. When Cavalli was available at the 22nd pick last June, the Nationals believed they had gotten a steal in the former two-way player out of Oklahoma.
“We couldn’t have been happier to have gotten him at 22,” general manager Mike Rizzo said at the time. “We feel that he’s a good value there, and all the makeup work that we’ve done on him points to a guy that’s a high-character guy with really good stuff. We feel [he] is just on the cusp of really taking the next step and doing something big.”
Looking back on Cavalli’s accomplishments with the Sooners, it’s hard to imagine him doing anything other than pitching. In three seasons of collegiate ball, he posted an 8-7 record and a 4.09 ERA in 101 1/3 innings. Ahead of his junior year, Cavalli was selected to the 2020 Golden Spikes Award watch list for the top amateur player, and he was named to Baseball America’s preseason Third-Team All-American.
“Whenever I transitioned into fully pitching, it was more for my body’s sake,” Cavalli said. “I wanted to truly focus on that craft because … that’s where my career was headed. ... I miss hitting a ton -- I do. I loved being at the plate. I loved playing defense.”
Cavalli spent the past season at the Nationals alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., where he impressed and rose to the team’s No. 2 prospect as ranked by MLB Pipeline. Still, the hard-throwing 22-year-old gets in swings when the opportunity presents itself.
“Any chance I’m with my buddies and I get a chance to take some BP or even throw some BP to them or take some ground balls, I’m on it,” he said. “I love that stuff. I miss it a lot. That’s legit what I grew up doing.”
Cavalli’s untapped potential is intriguing given the talents he has displayed so far. His power curveball ranged from 82-85 mph, and his fastball tracked at 95-98 mph last season.
“He’s able to throw his slider as a chase pitch, with control and consistency that improved during camp,” Nationals assistant GM of player development Mark Scialabba said at the end of the season. “His changeup might be his best pitch when he’s on -- he’s really learned to tunnel it well.”
In addition to his physicality -- Cavalli is listed at 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds -- he has demonstrated a strong cerebral approach to the game.
“I’m always doing visualization,” Cavalli said. “I do that while I’m lying down. That’s a really good thing. I try to put myself in spots [so] that whenever I do get there, it’s very comfortable to me and I’ve been there in my own head. So it feels a little better whenever I’m actually there on the mound.”
MLB Pipeline projects the 2023 season for Cavalli’s Major League arrival. Last year, the Nationals tapped into their system and saw the debuts of Top 30 prospects Luis García (second base), as well as pitchers Wil Crowe, Seth Romero and Ben Braymer. Given how quickly Cavalli developed since becoming a full-time pitcher, his path to the bigs will be a compelling one to watch.
“My career, it’s pretty fresh on the pitching side, which excites me a ton, because it means I’ve got a lot to learn, a lot to develop,” he said. “Where I’m at right now, I’m happy with it, but I’m not happy, if that makes sense. I’ve got a lot to go get better at. But also, I have a ton of confidence in my stuff and where I’m at right now. That’s what excites me, knowing that I can go get much better.”