2022 Winter Meetings Notebook: Cade Cavalli 'Penciled In' To Nationals Starting Rotation
SAN DIEGO—Nationals starters had a 5.97 ERA last year, the highest in Major League Baseball.
The club is counting on Cade Cavalli being part of the solution to those woes in 2023.
Cavalli, the Nationals No. 4 prospect, will be part of Washington’s rotation next season, manager Davey Martinez said Monday at the Winter Meetings. The 24-year-old righthander went 6-4, 3.71 at Triple-A Rochester last season and made his major league debut in August before going down with shoulder inflammation after his first start.
“I've got him penciled in as a starter for us, and rightfully so,” Martinez said. “I think he's earned it. Like I said, he checked all the boxes for us last year in Triple-A. He was going to get an opportunity to pitch. Obviously got hurt. We're looking forward to getting him back.”
The Nationals’ first-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2020, Cavalli led the minors in strikeouts in 2021 and shook off a slow start in 2022 to reach the majors just over two years after being drafted. He surrendered seven hits and six runs in 4.1 innings against the Reds in his big league debut and took the loss, but also showed his premium stuff—a fastball that averaged 96 mph and a power curveball that sat in the mid 80s. He had six strikeouts and generated 13 swings and misses in the outing.
Cavalli’s ability to miss bats is something the Nationals desperately need. Their starters finished with 635 strikeouts last season, 28th in the majors. Of the nine Nationals pitchers who made at least four starts last season, only one —righthander Josiah Gray—averaged more than a strikeout per inning.
“This guy is a competitor,” Martinez said. “He's young, but I know that he wants the ball. He's eager. He's hungry. I'm looking forward to getting him in spring training and seeing what he can do.”
EZEQUIEL TOVAR HAS OPENING DAY CHANCE
Rockies manager Bud Black made a point to go see Ezequiel Tovar in the Arizona Fall League in 2021. His adoration of the young shortstop prospect only increased when Tovar hit .550 with three home runs in big league spring training before last season.
Now, following a breakout season in which Tovar stormed through the upper levels of the minors and made his major league debut, Black said the 21-year-old is “tracking” toward being the Rockies Opening Day shortstop in 2023.
“He showed enough to us in what he did during the course of the year,” Black said. “All our evaluators and player development people think that he is a guy that we can count on moving forward.
“We're excited about this young guy. He's a good one.”
Tovar, the Rockies No. 1 prospect, hit .318 in 66 games at Double-A Hartford before suffering a groin injury that sidelined him for more than two months. He returned in September with Triple-A Albuquerque and played just five games before the Rockies called him up for his major league debut. He recorded a hit in six of the nine games he played in with the Rockies and hit his first career home run off Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in the final game of the season.
“Everything that everybody said about him is starting to really come into fruition,” Black said. “Talented player both with the glove and with the bat … He came to us probably not 100% (from his injury) but still playable. We thought it was important for him to get big league time which he did. I thought that was great for him.”
If Tovar does win the Rockies shortstop job out of spring training, he will have played just 71 games above the Class A levels. While the jump in competition would certainly represent a steep learning curve, the Rockies are optimistic and willing to be patient.
“If you believe in a player, I think you can be more patient,” Black said. “We'll see how he handles it, but I suspect that from what we've heard about the makeup and the kid, he's gonna be able to handle this even if there are some valleys.”
“I don't want to put a timeframe on any performance. We're confident in his ability not only physically but the mental side, as well, to handle the big leagues.”
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ENDY RODRIGUEZ'S ROLE STILL COMING INTO FOCUS
Pirates catcher Endy Rodriguez had a breakout season in 2022, batting .323 with 25 home runs, 95 RBIs and a .996 OPS while climbing three levels of the minors. He became the organization’s No. 1 prospect and finished the year with six games at Triple-A Indianapolis, putting him in position to make his major league debut next year.
While there is little doubt Rodriguez will reach Pittsburgh in 2023, what exact role he’ll play when he gets there is still to be determined, Pirates manager Derek Shelton said.
Rodriguez played 75 of his 125 games at catcher in 2022 but also saw time at first base, second base and left field during the year in addition to DH. His athleticism and versatility are two of his greatest assets, and ones the Pirates intend to get the most out of.
“We're going to get a chance to deploy him at some point, which with the ability to catch, the ability to play second base, the ability to play the corner outfield, we're talking about a rare athlete,” Shelton said. “He just continues to get better as he climbs level to level.”
Rodriguez, 22, played first base nearly as often as he caught in his pro debut in the Mets system and played more games in the outfield than behind the plate during his stateside debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2019. The Pirates acquired him for lefthander Joey Lucchesi in the three-team trade that sent Joe Musgrove to the Padres and stuck him behind the plate primarily, but have continued to give him exposure to other positions.
The simultaneous grind of catching and challenges of playing multiple positions haven’t slowed Rodriguez’s bat. The switch-hitter has increased his batting average, on-base percentage and home run total each successive season and led all minor league catchers in virtually every offensive category in 2022.
Shelton, a former minor league catcher, said it’s still a possibility Rodriguez settles in as an everyday catcher who focuses solely on that position, but the team isn’t ready to make that determination yet.
“I think that's something we'll find out the more he catches,” Shelton said. “I mean, this is a kid that's played (37) games above the A-ball level. And as excited as we get about things, we also have to temper that and let him get into a situation in Indianapolis this year and let him play and work off that.”