When Cade Cavalli first learned the game of baseball, he was taught how to be a catcher.
His father Brian, a former backstop who made a brief stint in the minors, rubbed off on him—if only for a few years. Cade later switched over to shortstop, where he stayed through high school.
Yet when Cavalli was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 29th round of the 2017 MLB first-year player draft, it wasn’t as a catcher or a shortstop; it was as a right-handed pitcher. Though he honored his commitment to Oklahoma, it didn’t take long for Cavalli to work his way onto the mound. Despite starting at first base for the Sooners as a freshman, he managed to earn a bullpen role by season’s end.
His sophomore year, Cavalli moved over to designated hitter but also earned the top spot in Oklahoma’s rotation. Over 12 starts, he posted a 3.43 ERA with 59 strikeouts over 60 1.3 innings—although he did struggle with his command at times, walking 35 batters. At the plate, he hit .319 with 11 extra-base hits in 31 games (84 plate appearances).
Over that following offseason, it became clear to Cavalli that he wanted to build his baseball career around pitching.
“I just wanted to focus on pitching going into my junior year,” Cavalli said on a Zoom call after being drafted 22nd overall by the Nationals on Wednesday night. “I hit my freshman and sophomore year and I knew that pitching was what I wanted to do with the rest of my career and I had a conversation with [head coach] Skip [Johnson] and asked him [should I] just put all my eggs in one basket because I was a little new to pitching.
“This is really my second year of fully focusing on pitching and I just wanted to get the hitting out of the way. I felt like it was going to be a good transition for me, not only physically but mentally as well. I was doing a lot of two-way, which I loved because I loved playing the game every single day but I thought it was a really good transition for me physically and mentally to go focus on pitching. I got a lot better in that area, had more time and I think it paid off pretty well.”
However, regardless of what Cavalli was doing on his days off from the mound, the Nationals always saw him as a pitcher. According to GM Mike Rizzo, Washington had compiled eight scouting reports on Cavalli over the years before drafting him—every single one profiling him as a pitcher.
“He fulfills a lot of what we look for in drafting pitchers,” Rizzo said on a Zoom call. “He’s a big, physical pitcher. He’s got really good stuff. He comes from a really good baseball conference. We’ve got great history on him over the years. We’ve seen him pitch past summers and past seasons. We had a really good feel for his stuff, how much he’s improved over the years, his makeup and his character and we couldn’t be happier to have gotten him at No. 22.
“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 and just we feel is just on the cusp of taking the next step and doing something big.”
While it might be understandable for a former two-way player to only have a few pitches developed, that’s not the case for Cavalli.
“I describe myself as a blend of a power pitcher and a guy with a lot of pitch ability,” Cavalli said. “I have a five-pitch mix: four-seam fastball, two-seam, changeup, spike curveball and a slider and I love to use all of them. I can use them pretty much in any count and I have the confidence in all of them. I also have the velocity of a power pitcher and I just picture myself being a blend of those.
“I’ve been a hitter and I know it’s very uncomfortable when a guy’s bringing some heat and he’s also got three or four other pitches he can go land. It’s an uncomfortable AB and that’s what I try to deliver to the batters.”
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