When Sean Doolittle returned from a stint at Fredericksburg, Virginia’s Alternate Training Site in late August, the Washington Nationals’ veteran reliever talked about one pitching prospect in particular making him feel a little self-conscious about the work he was there doing as Doolittle rehabbed from right knee fatigue which landed him on the Injured List, and searched for a fix for his mechanics.
“I’m trying to feel some things in my bullpen sessions,” Doolittle said, “and I’ve got like Cavalli next to me throwing like 100 MPH, making it look super easy.
“And I was like this is definitely a wake-up call.”
Cavalli, is, of course, the Nationals’ top pick in this past June’s draft, Cade Cavalli, the 22-year-old right-hander out of the University of Oklahoma, described on the night he went 22nd overall to Washington as a, “high-character guy, with really good stuff,” by GM Mike Rizzo, who, the club felt, was then on the, “cusp of really taking the next step and doing something big.”
Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office included Cavalli in their 60-Man Player Pool for the 2020 COVID campaign so that he could work out in Fredericksburg without any minor league season this year.
“We feel that to have these guys in camp does a lot of positive things for us,” Rizzo said in early July.
“It gets them a feel for Major League Spring Training. It gives them several months of development.
“We’re an organization that if we feel you’re ready and we feel you can help this year, you may be in the big leagues before you know it. So, it kind of serves a lot of purposes for us.”
Cavalli spent the summer in Virginia, and told reporters on Saturday afternoon that he’d loved everything about it.
While other prospects and rehabbing major leaguers said that it was repetitive, and tough for pitchers facing the same hitters multiple times every day, the right-hander embraced it all.
“Personally, I think it was the best thing that we could have had in this environment,” Cavalli said in a Zoom call.
“I mean, you face the same guys, and they’ve seen your stuff, so you’ve got to get creative.
“It’s like that when you got to the league. They’re going to see you a couple times, got to get creative.
“It’s part of pitching. I think that’s the awesome and fun part about pitching. You’ve got to know how to sequence them. Got to go execute it, that’s the biggest thing.
“You’ve just got to stay in control, let your mind think clearly against these hitters, and they’re your buddies, so you can have fun with them too, it’s been awesome.
“You’re out there, you’re competing, and it’s a job and it’s awesome, and you just got to sequence a little different each time, and it’s funny, we’ll go talk about at bats and stuff when we’re off the field, and the next at bat I’ll be like, ‘Hey, I’m going to throw you a couple changeups today,’ and then you just throw a fastball, or a changeup. You get them thinking, that’s fun. It’s been awesome. You just got to get creative and that’s it.”
“We have to go compete against each other,” Cavalli added, “and I mean, just the routine has just been awesome and the communication and the coaching, I’m absolutely in love with this environment. If you want to go develop and compete, I just feel like I got 100x better down here, and even though it was the same thing every day, I absolutely enjoyed it.”
For Cavalli, who came to Fredericksburg having never thrown a professional inning, getting an opportunity to test himself against veterans with major league experience and high-end prospects was the perfect environment.
“I got to be around veteran guys, the best coaches, and I mean, we were with each other every day just putting in work,” he said with the genuine excitement of a rookie.
“I’ve talked about this before, the feedback that you get from the hitters, because normally you’re throwing against another team, you don’t get that opportunity to go talk to them after and say, ‘How did this look?’ And I can talk to them about how I felt, how they were hitting and what I saw in them.
“We help each other out that way, and that’s awesome. That’s what I absolutely love about this organization. Everyone is just tight, it’s a very family-oriented thing, and we have those conversations, so I think that was the biggest opportunity for me to go get better.
“Mentally, I was able to just really slow things down and I really just focused on executing whenever I was out there, and mid-week, I treated my work right and stayed healthy, and it’s been a great job.
“I learned a lot of stuff about my body down here with rest and recovery, so I just picked up from what guys are doing. You get to go watch guys that have done it for a long time. You go watch them and how they go about their work every single day. And you know, I just try to be with them, maybe more, I’m trying to get to work and I’m trying to be the best I can be and I have awesome people at my back in this organization, and I’m crazy excited, and I learned a ton down here, that’s for sure.”
If you sense the determination he has, which is palpable, it’s because he’s a determined and ambitious young man with big plans, not just for making it to the majors, but making a mark when he does.
“In my head,” Cavalli said, “I’m working to become the best that I can be. I want to be elite in the big leagues, I don’t want to just make it. I want to become elite and be the best I can be.
“With having big leaguers around you, it’s been awesome,” he continued. “They’ve helped me with just little stuff like little workout routines, like little stuff that maybe was heading me in the wrong direction, and there was a quick conversation, ‘Hey, yeah, perfect.’
“And the other way around. And it’s just been really good.”
The next step? Now that the crew at Fredericksburg is wrapping things up with the 2020 MLB season close to the end of the regular season, Cavalli and a number of others will go down to Florida.
“I’m heading down to instructs in West Palm [Beach],” he said, where they’ll gather at the Nationals’ Spring Training facility for more work.
“So, I’m really excited about that. I haven’t been out there yet. Get to see the complex and meet everyone else in the organization. So I think it’s a great opportunity for me to do that. I’m thinking I might get a couple innings down there, hopefully, maybe — I heard — maybe against some other teams.
“That would be cool seeing some other jerseys for sure, but I’m just really excited, so I’m going to be headed straight to Florida at the end of this camp.”