WASHINGTON – When Mike Rizzo met with the media on Sunday, the general manager of the Nationals mentioned at least two players who have yet to play in the big leagues.
Those were a pair of promising right-handers: Cade Cavalli and Cole Henry.
“Our mantra here has been that starting pitching is the most important thing, and pitchers have to go deep in games to give us a chance to win, to take the onus off the bullpen,” said Rizzo, with his arms folded in the first base dugout and his back to the infield during batting practice.
With so much focus on the future, here is an early look at four players in the Nationals’ system that could break into the majors next year:
For the last three, however, 2023, could be more realistic.
Pitcher Cade Cavalli – First:
Cavalli, 23, was a first-round pick of the Nationals out of the University of Oklahoma last year.
At three levels this year, the right-hander was 7-9 with an ERA of 3.36 in 24 starts across 124.1 innings, with 175 strikeouts.
Cade Cavalli's fastball is so impressive, it was voted as the best heater in two different levels this year.— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) September 10, 2021
The @Nationals RHP is all over our Best Tools balloting. https://t.co/KNX2j3kh6c pic.twitter.com/vBvSLknD8p
He didn’t fare so well at Triple-A Rochester, going 1-5, 7.30 in six starts. But the Nationals seem very high on his progress.
“He has really developed so much on the field this year from each start,” Mark Scialabba, assistant general manager, player development, told Federal Baseball last month about the native of Tulsa. “He has certainly been challenged along the way but he has certainly shown the electric stuff that has allowed him to have success and show everyone what he is capable of.”
Pitcher Cole Henry – Second:
A second-round pick out of LSU last year, the right-hander posted very strong numbers this year.
Henry was 0-2, 6.75 in two starts and just four innings in the Florida Complex League.
But he was impressive at Single-A Wilmington, going 3-3, 1.88 in nine games with eight starts with a WHIP of 0.79 for the team in Delaware.
With the Blue Rocks, he fanned 63 batters in 43 innings.
Pitcher Jackson Rutledge – Third:
The numbers from this year would say this is a stretch. But the stuff that Rutledge has say don’t count him out.
He was 1-6 with an ERA of 7.68 in 13 starts – two in Florida, seven in Fredericksburg and four in Wilmington.
Rutledge, 22, who had dealt with injury woes, was drafted in the first round in 2019 out of a junior college in Texas.
Infielder Yasel Antuna – Fourth:
The signing of Alcides Escobar to a one-year deal by the Nationals on Tuesday could impact Antuna – or not.
A lot depends on how Luis Garcia comes along, perhaps, and of course the development of Antuna, who was protected from the Rule 5 draft last winter, according to CBSsports.com.
This year, Antuna spent the entire season at high Single-A Wilmington and played in 106 games with 12 homers and an average of .227.
It is a stretch to think Antuna could go from High-A this year to the majors next year. The Nats have done such with pitchers and if the infield depth is lacking, you just never know.