The Washington Nationals selected Oklahoma right-handed pitcher Cade Cavalli with the 22nd overall pick in the 2020 Major League Baseball draft Wednesday night.
It marked the fifth straight season the Nationals selected a pitcher in the first round of the draft, following Jackson Rutledge (2019), Mason Denaburg (2018) Seth Romero (2017) and Dane Dunning (2016).
Cavalli, 21, was rated as the No. 22 draft prospect by both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, matching the number of the selection he went in the draft.
Cavalli played three seasons for the Sooners and was named first-team All-Big 12 in 2019. The 6-foot-4 pitcher went 5-3 that season with a 3.28 ERA and 59 strikeouts. In four starts in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, Cavalli faced 96 batters, struck out 37 of them and walked only five with a 4.18 ERA.
He only pitched 101 innings in three years of college action, but ESPN baseball analyst Kyle Peterson said that might be a benefit for Cavalli’s longevity.
“The mechanics are insanely clean when you look at it,” Peterson said of Cavalli, “but it’s insanely clean mechanics with a 98 mph fastball. And the simplicity with which he repeats it is something that I think is really impressive.”
On a conference call with reporters, Cavalli said he will play whatever role he’s asked by the Nationals organization but believes he fits the profile of a future starting pitcher in the majors. He described his five-pitch arsenal: a four-seam and two-seam fastballs, plus a changeup, a spiked curveball and a slider.
Cavalli also discussed the difficulties of the 2020 NCAA baseball season being canceled due to COVID-19.
“It was tough when the season got canceled, but like I said, we knew it was bigger than baseball,” Cavalli said. “I got back home and I just got to work, got after it, and I got better at home. I used the time wisely.”
Cavalli was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 29th round of the 2017 draft, but he opted to go to Oklahoma and improved his draft stock by doing so. He was a two-way player his first two years at Oklahoma, but planned to focus exclusively on pitching as a junior before the remainder of the season was abruptly canceled.
Cavalli said it will be an “awesome opportunity” to join an organization that won the 2019 World Series in part on the strength of its elite starting pitching, and to someday learn from stars like Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin in spring training.
“I’m gonna go prove myself,” Cavalli said. “And like you said, the World Series champions, that’s something I’ve dreamed of since the day I was little. Not only to get to the big leagues but to go help the organization win a World Series, and play whatever role I have to play on that team. That’s really all it’s about, and that’s how I grew up, a team guy.”
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo praised Cavalli’s talent and said he was good value for the team at No. 22.
“We have a really good feel for his stuff, how much he’s improved over the years, his makeup and his character,” Rizzo said. “We couldn’t be happier to have gotten him at 22 … 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 really taking the next step and doing something big.”
Rizzo said the Nationals will sign as many players as they like after the draft concludes Thursday. Due to the pandemic, the draft was shortened from a typical 40 rounds to just five as a cost-cutting measure, but teams are allowed to sign an unlimited number of undrafted players for $20,000 apiece.
Elsewhere, the Detroit Tigers selected Spencer Torkelson, a first and third baseman from Arizona State, first overall. The Baltimore Orioles picked Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad No. 2 overall and added Mississippi State infielder Jordan Westburg with the 30th pick.