Cavalli has best chance of Nats prospects to impact majors

We’re continuing our miniseries of minor league entries from this week’s conversation with Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser on the “MASN All Access Podcast.”

In the first edition, we looked at Luis García’s hot start to the season at Triple-A Rochester while wondering when he’ll get the call back to the majors and what’s holding him back now.

Along with García in Rochester is the Nationals’ top prospect in Cade Cavalli. After flying up the ranks in his first professional season last year, the former first-round pick is now trying to find sustained success at the highest level of the minor leagues before making his highly anticipated major league debut later this summer.

Cavalli is 1-2 with a 7.36 ERA in 22 innings over five starts with the Red Wings. He has held opponents to a .259 average while striking out 19 and walking 11.

“He has some of the best pure stuff in the minors,” Glaser said of Cavalli. “It's explosive, explosive stuff all the way around. The one thing that has kind of been the issue dating back to his days in college was despite how his stuff read on a radar gun, it was always a little more hittable than you expected. And we're seeing that now at Triple-A against some of the top-level talent in the minors. He struggled there last year, he's actually struggling there so far this year as well. The strikeout-to-walk ratio is not great.”

In his start against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Yankees) last night in Rochester, Cavalli gave up seven runs (six earned) on seven hits and four walks while striking out six over 4 ⅔ innings. He threw 97 pitches, 58 for strikes, in the Red Wings’ 8-7 loss in 10 innings.

“The stuff looks really good on a radar gun,” said Glaser. “But he's still having to figure out how to pitch a little bit, how to hit his spots, how to stay in the strike zone and throw consistent quality strikes. And that's just part of the natural development path. But he still needs to take it. So I don't think his debut is coming in the next week or two by any means, unless a bunch of injuries hit. I do think that as he makes progress throughout the year, there's a very good chance we do see him at some point during the year. But there are some steps he still needs to take. He's not major league ready quite yet.”

As we’re seeing with García, the Nationals are being very cautious and patient with their top prospect. Cavalli won’t get the call to D.C. until he can prove he can consistently put away Triple-A hitters and command the strike zone. He threw 81 pitches but only 41 for strikes in his April 30 start against Syracuse, and he has a 1.500 WHIP on the season.

The Nationals showed their patient approach a few weeks ago when they needed a starter for an April 23 game against the Giants. Although Cavalli was on extra rest and kept out of the Rochester rotation just in case, the Nats elected to instead bring up veteran right-hander Aaron Sanchez.

Like Glaser said, Cavalli’s debut probably won’t come in the next couple of weeks. But it is coming. And when it does, it’ll be an exciting day for the Nationals organization.

It may be that Cavalli is one of the few, if not only, top Nationals prospects that get the call to the majors this season. Although the Nats have added depth to their farm system, most of the top talents are in the lower levels of the minor leagues. That leaves Cavalli as one of the few prospects close to major league ready.

Of the three top 30 prospects on the farm above Double-A (excluding right-hander Joan Adon, who has been with the Nationals since the start of the season), Cavalli is the only one who hasn’t at least received a call to the majors.

Outfielder Donovan Casey, part of the Max Scherzer-Trea Turner return package last summer and the 19th-ranked prospect, was recalled on April 15 and with the club for five days, but never made his debut. Infielder Lucius Fox, a November waiver claim from the Orioles and 23rd-ranked prospect, appeared in 10 games with the Nats before being sent down to Rochester on Tuesday.

That just leaves Cavalli as the only other top 30 prospect knocking on the door of the major leagues yet to get promoted.

“I would say Cavalli really is the guy who has the biggest chance to make an impact when he comes up,” said Glaser. “I think other players who come up it'll be more of a bench roll, up-and-down type of situation.”

You can listen to the full conversation with Glaser on the “MASN All Access Podcast” and check back for more minor league updates. Coming Monday: Updates on last year’s first-round pick and No. 2 prospect in the Nats system, Brady House.

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