PROSPECT REVIEW: CADE CAVALLI
Age on opening day 2024: 25
How acquired: Drafted No. 22 overall in 2020 from University of Oklahoma
Ranking: No. 4 per MLB Pipeline, No. 4 per Baseball America
MLB debut: Aug. 26, 2022
Signing bonus: $3 million
2023 levels: Washington Nationals (60-day injured list)
2023 stats: 0-0, 1.59 ERA, 3 G, 1 GS, 5 ⅔ IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 7 SO, 0 HBP, 0.706 WHIP (spring training)
Quotable: “I gave myself a little bit of time to cry and to hurt. But during that meeting with them, it was just like: It is what it is, and it’s time. It was a little flip switch, and I’m ready. I am. I’m ready to rock. I’m going to be back, and I’m going to be better, I promise.” – Cade Cavalli on receiving news he needed Tommy John Surgery
2023 analysis: Obviously, there isn’t too much to analyze of Cavalli’s 2023 season, which he lost to Tommy John surgery in spring training. But it’s worth looking back at the progress the former first-round pick made before his injury.
Of course, Cavalli missed out on his first professional season after being drafted due to the canceled 2020 pandemic season. But he spent that summer at the Nationals’ alternate training site in Fredericksburg and the flew up the organizational ladder in 2021, pitching to a 3.36 ERA and 1.265 WHIP in 24 starts across High-A Wilmington, Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Rochester while also being one of the top strikeout leaders in all of minor league baseball with 175 in 123 ⅓ innings.
The 6-foot-4, 232-pound right-hander spent all of the 2022 season at Rochester before making his major league debut in August. With the Red Wings, he went 6-4 with a 3.71 ERA, 1.175 WHIP, 9.6 strikeout-per-nine-innings rate and 2.67 strikeout-to-walk rate in 20 starts. He again topped 100 strikeouts on the season with 104 over 97 innings en route to being named the Nats’ minor league Pitcher of the Year for the second consecutive season.
Cavalli made his debut at Nats Park on Aug. 26, 2022 against the Reds. It was an up-and-down first outing in which he flashed his impressive stuff while also showing he still needed some more development. In the end, he gave up seven runs on six hits and two walks with six strikeouts over 4 ⅓ innings, throwing 99 pitches and 57 strikes.
He didn’t make it back to the mound in 2022 after being shut down with shoulder inflammation. But he entered this season as the Nats’ top pitching prospect who was expected to crack the Opening Day rotation.
Cavalli was impressive in three Grapefruit League outings this spring, giving up two hits and one run on a solo home run, walking two and striking out seven over 5 ⅔ innings. The cruel irony: His injury came during his most impressive outing of the three. In a March 14 start against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, the rookie was throwing 97 mph fastballs and mixing in his off-speed stuff to retire eight of the first nine hitters he faced. But on his 43rd pitch, an 87 mph curveball that went way high and away to left-handed batter Brandon Nimmo, he "felt something behind his throwing elbow" and was removed from the game.
The next day he received the news that he had a full tear of the ulnar collateral ligament and needed Tommy John surgery, ending his season.
Cavalli spent most of the year rehabbing at the team’s facility in West Palm Beach. He met the Nats in Miami in May and joined them on the flight back to D.C. for the weekend. Manager Davey Martinez mentioned it was important to them to make sure Cavalli still felt like he was part of the team.
Cavalli rejoined them in Washington in late September and crossed a major milestone off his recovery to-do list at Nationals Park. It was only a couple of light throwing sessions in the outfield, but it was the first time he had picked up a baseball since the injury, putting him on track for a June 2024 return to a big league mound.
2024 outlook: The most important thing for Cavalli and the Nationals is obviously his health as he continues developing his throwing program this offseason.
Assuming there are no setbacks, he should be ramping up his throws and velocity by the time spring training arrives. Ideally, he’ll return to a mound sometime during the Nats’ six-week stay in Florida, if not sooner.
The Nats have said all along they are going to be very cautious with their top pitching prospect. A regular one-year rehab for Tommy John would have Cavalli ready for Opening Day. But he is likely to start the season back on the injured list as the Nats monitor his innings to start the season.
When Cavalli spoke with reporters at Nats Park in September, he mentioned June was the target date for his return to the majors, which would be about 15 months since his initial injury. Hopefully by then, he could have ramped up his innings in Florida and a couple of minor league rehab outings, and finally join MacKenzie Gore, Josiah Gray, Jake Irvin and maybe even Jackson Rutledge in the Nats rotation.
But until then, it’s all about the long recovery process for the young and promising righty.