Top Nationals pitching prospects Cade Cavalli and Jackson Rutledge continue to get their work in at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg, Va., under the direction of minor league pitching coordinator Brad Holman and the coaching staff.
Rutledge is currently ranked No. 3 and Cavalli No. 4 in the latest MLBpipeline.com top 30 Nationals prospects list.
“Well, obviously both those guys are extremely talented,” Holman told me. “I can’t say enough about either one of them. They are extremely talented.”
Cavalli was the 2020 Nats first-round pick on the June First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Oklahoma. The 22-year-old right-hander was known for his fastball and curveball with the Sooners, but the Nats have noticed how impressive his off-speed stuff shows as well.
“Cade is more polished than his age should reflect,” Holman said. “He’s learning a lot about sequencing his pitches and just everything that goes along with transitioning. He has not pitched long, he was a converted guy. He’s just hungry for information. Initially, we try to kind of stay out of adjusting mechanics the year when they are drafted, especially where their deliveries are concerned. He is just a different breed. He is really, really hungry for knowledge and has a way about him that is mature beyond his years.”
Holman said Cavalli’s fastball has been clocked at “mostly 95-97 mph” and has reached up to 99 mph. The right-hander has also and demonstrated an advanced changeup. It was his stuff and makeup that impressed the Nats during their scouting of Big 12 baseball.
“Just can’t say enough about his stuff,” Holman said. “He’s upper 90s mph fastball. Curveball, slider, changeup. Changeup is probably his best secondary pitch, but they are all above-average pitches. He’s learning some things about his delivery, how to time it, how to repeat it, things like that. But not any delivery alterations to speak of, just him learning how to make adjustments on the fly. He is doing really well with that. How to sequence his pitches and recognize what hitters are trying to do against him.”
Rutledge was the Nats’ 2019 first-round pick out of San Jacinto Junior College in Texas. The 21-year-old right-hander also has upper-90s mph fastball, coming at the hitter from an intimidating 6-foot-8 frame. Under coach Tom Arrington, Rutledge showed off a “power fastball, power slider, hard breaking ball and plus changeup.”
Holman says not only is Rutledge intimidating to hit against, but he also is pretty intense on the mound.
“Rutledge has tremendous stuff,” Holman said. “He has a tendency to overcompete sometimes, but that’s a good problem to have. I’d much rather pull the reins back on a guy than have to motivate him. Another upper-90s mph fastball. Just getting in to emphasizing where the ball is going a little bit more than what it is doing on its way to the plate. He gravitates towards velocity and spin, and sometimes sacrifices command, but as of late, he has really bought in and he’s been really good.”
Due to the dynamics of the 60-player pool, the Nats cannot field full 9-on-9 intrasquad games. Holman said they have had to be creative in the way they set up game situations for their pitchers at the alternate camp.
“It’s kind of a different dynamic here because we can control the environment,” Holman said. “Obviously, we don’t have enough players to field a team really. We do an intrasquad type situation, where we have essentially a pitcher, a catcher and a hitter. We are really thin when the taxi squad goes on the road. That’s basically what we have to work with. Then when they are home though, we have a couple guys that go out and play some defense. But for the most part, we just get creative and we got determine when the ball is hit whether it would have been an out or a hit based on what we think with our eyes.”
Manager Davey Martinez has said how important it is for young pitchers to learn how to feel comfortable expanding the strike zone on a hitter and pitching inside. That is easy to do in a normal season at each level because you are facing different teams each day. But with no minor league baseball this season due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is a challenge to pitch that way with a limited roster filled with your own teammates.
“It’s kind of tough from the standpoint when the pitchers are facing the hitters they are not really going to pitch inside really hard because of the potential of hitting one of our own guys,” Holman said. “So with that, it’s been kind of challenging, but at the same time we get the opportunity. If a guy’s got 25 pitches in an inning, we can just roll the inning and make sure as a starter he gets his five ups. (This works) as opposed to where if you are in a season, and a guy throws 30-35 pitches in the first inning and that’s all he’s got that day (and) somebody else is coming in for him.”
As Martinez has noted, he has asked his coordinators and coaches in Fredericksburg to stop games if a teaching moment presents itself. Holman likes it because the pitchers don’t have to worry about their pitch count inning to inning. If the pitcher reaches 25 pitches and there have not been three outs recorded, no problem - just move onto the next half-inning and start over. Then, when the coaching staff deems it necessary, they will set up a high-leverage game situation for the pitcher to attempt to wiggle out of.
“That’s been kind of nice,” Holman said. “It’s more like a spring training type of a feel and the guys don’t have to worry about their numbers, so the pressure is a little less. We try and create some pressure situations for them.”