The Nationals continued a draft strategy that has worked well in the past by selecting a pitcher with their first pick in the 2020 First-Year Player Draft.
Their first selection at No. 22 was right-hander Cade Cavalli of Oklahoma. Cavalli features a solid fastball, clocked at upwards of 98 mph, with a power curveball and a consistent slider. Cavalli was thrilled to see his name come up as a Nats selection.
“It was awesome,” Cavalli said on a Zoom call with local media. “I was grateful to even have my name called. You got to keep a really good perspective. They say I slid, but I know I ended up in the right place, the right organization. I know it was in God’s hands to put me (there). I am going to be around great people, a great organization. I can’t be happier.
“The emotions are unreal. I burst into tears. I really didn’t think I was going to cry, but I heard my name and (thought about) my parents, my family, and all my friends that supported me. It was a flood of emotions.”
MLBPipeline.com senior writer Jim Callis told me last week that a Nats source said they were hoping Cavalli would fall to them in this draft. This scenario played out in similar fashion to what occurred in 2019 when Jackson Rutledge fell to No. 17 and the Nats snatched him up.
When Cavalli was still on the board at No. 22, the Nats went for him without hesitation.
“He fulfills a lot of what we look for in drafting pitchers over the course of my career with Arizona and with Washington,” said general manager Mike Rizzo during a Zoom call. “He’s a big, physical pitcher. He’s got really good stuff. He comes from a really good baseball conference. We got great history on him over the years. We have seen him pitch in past summers and past seasons. We have a really good feel for his stuff and how much he has improved over the years, his makeup, his character and we couldn’t be happier to have gotten him at No. 22. We feel he is a good value there.
“All the makeup work we have done on him points to a guy that is 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.”
Cavalli, at 6-foot-4 and 226 lbs., is known mainly for his fastball and curveball, and he also played first base for the Sooners. He was invited to participate for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team last summer. Cavalli’s strikeouts per nine innings was 14.1 in 2020, and he went 8-5 with a 4.08 ERA in 23 games (14 starts) for the Sooners in three seasons.
He has dealt with some injuries in the past related to his back and worked his way through a stress reaction in his arm last season. Nationals assistant general manager and vice president of scouting operations Kris Kline said the back injury was a minor issue prior to Cavalli’s arrival at Oklahoma.
“The lower back thing was something from way back in high school and more of a growth issue,” Kline said. “We have spent some time communicating with our doctors and everybody is good with it.
“Right now, he is completely healthy. He’s got a really good delivery, almost textbook. Just clean arm action, four-pitch mix, big fastball with life down in the zone. His slider is his wipeout pitch. He shows you flashes of a plus curveball and changeup that he commands really well. Just a solid overall package and a wonderful kid, character, makeup type person.”
Rizzo was asked if he felt confident that the Nationals had seen enough of Cavalli to feel confident in the 21-year-old. The GM said Kline and the area scouts had seen Cavalli pitch eight times over the past few seasons. Kline said they built confidence in the right-hander seeing him drive the ball to the plate last summer.
“When we saw him early at the Minute Maid tournament, it was absolutely electric,” Kline said. “He’s got a great pitcher’s frame, strong, defined, durable look. On this particular day, he held 96 mph for five innings, touching 98, 99 mph. I think he will settle in at 94, 95 mph when a pro load hits him.
“He’s got an above-average major league slider now that he commands. The curveball is probably the fourth pitch in the mix. There is flashes of a solid average pitch. It will be a nice weapon for him as maybe a get over type (pitch), to get ahead in the count. And then the changeup, above-average feel for that as well. He will need to start incorporating that more into his mix as he gets out into pro ball. He’s got three pitches that he can put pitchers away with and the ability to command them.”
Working with the Sooners coaching staff, Cavalli worked very hard to adjust his mechanics.
“He’s really turning a corner,” Kline said. “Skip Johnson, the head coach (at Oklahoma) now, does a wonderful job with pitchers. Did some fine-tuning with his mechanics and his delivery. He’s definitely arrow up. He’s going in the right direction. I’m really excited he’s part of our group.”
Cavalli, wearing a classic curly W red Nationals cap with an Oklahoma Sooners baseball shirt for the Zoom call, was equally as thrilled when his new team called him with the big news.
“I ended up with the best organization out there and I am fired up to be a National,” he said.
Photo by Ty Russell/Oklahoma Athletics