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Washington Nationals’ prospect Cade Cavalli will let club know when he’s ready...

The top pitching prospect in the organization still has things to work on before he’s major league-ready...

Washington Nationals Photo Day Photo by Benjamin Rusnak/Getty Images

Cade Cavalli, 23, and the Washington Nationals’ top pick in the 2020 draft (22nd overall in the 1st Round), spent his first year as a pro throwing at the club’s alternate training site in Fredericksburg, VA without a minor league season for players that year during the COVID pandemic.

In 2021, Cavalli made the most of the return of minor league baseball, working his way up from High-A Wilmington to Triple-A Rochester in the Nats’ system, with a combined 3.36 ERA, 60 walks (4.38 BB/9), and 175 strikeouts (12.77 K/9) in 24 starts and 123 1⁄3 IP on the year.

Ranked No. 1 on MLB Pipeline’s list of the top prospects in the organization going into 2022, Cavalli is on the cusp of making the jump to the majors, but as GM Mike Rizzo said when he spoke to reporters last weekend from Spring Training in West Palm Beach, FL, the righty will let the club know when he’s ready to take the next step.

“Cade is going to tell us when he’s ready to pitch in the big leagues, I think,” Rizzo said.

“He’s got electric stuff, he’s got an elite package, we know that, he just needs to refine it a little bit. And the pace of that is up to him. He’s an extremely hard worker, and he’s got to take it at his pace, but he’s going to let us know by his performance when he’s ready, and as always, what we’ve done here with myself as the GM, when he’s ready he’s going to be here.”

Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez talked this weekend about the advice he’s given Cavalli this spring as the righty prepares for his second proper professional season.

“He’s a competitor,” Martinez said in his pregame press conference with reporters on Friday.

“And I’ve had good conversations with him. He understands what he needs to do. The good thing is is that he got [123 1/3] innings last year, and he learned a lot, and he knows that he’s going to throw strikes. The biggest thing for him as we tell all of our young guys and even our veteran guys: if you can’t throw the ball consistently over the plate, the struggles are going to be big for you. Especially when you get up here and the hitters are so much better, I think, because they got a good eye.

“So, he’s — when I watch him, he’s been 0-2 on a lot of hitters, he still has this little thing about striking guys out and burying pitches, and I said, ‘No,’ I said, ‘... some of the best pitchers I’ve known they attack the strike zone, they got hitters out three pitches or less, they were in the fifth, sixth inning with 70 pitches.’

“I said, ‘With your stuff, I think you can be one of those guys, I really do.’

“There’s a point where you can overpower somebody, but it’s just about throwing strikes, and consistently.

“So he’s in a good place, and I’m looking forward to watching him. He’s going to pitch up here with us [in Spring Training], so I’m looking forward to watching him.”

What has Martinez seen in Cavalli so far that leads him to label the young star a competitor, or what is his definition of the word in this context? What stands out?

“Just his actions on the mound every pitch,” the manager said. “He engages every pitch, which is nice. You look at a [Juan] Soto, when he engages in every pitch as a hitter, you can say the same thing about Cavalli. I mean, he really engages on every pitch. Sometimes he wants to be too perfect, and I told him, ‘Don’t try to be perfect, just be you, and make the pitch you want to make.’”

Cavalli’s 15.71 K/9 at High-A, 12.41 K/9 at Double-A, and 8.76 K/9 at Triple-A stand out from his first full season of pro ball, but his 2.66 BB/9, 5.43 BB/9, and 4.74 BB/9, respectively, at the three stops he made last season stand out too.

Martinez was asked what he tells young pitchers these days, with strikeouts not carrying the stigma they did in other eras, about the value of getting quick outs versus piling up Ks, with a pitcher like Cavalli, in particular, able to strike out batters, but potentially better off trying a different approach, like pitching to contact to keep his pitch count down and allow him to go deeper into games.

“What we told him is your stuff is really good,” Martinez explained. “I mean, he’s 97-98, he’s got a really good breaking ball, a really good changeup, I said, there’s not much more that you have to put into that, except for the fact — throw strikes. You want the hitters to hit, to swing, consistently.

“You talk about — I played with Randy Johnson. I’ve known Randy for a long time. He’d be the first to tell you, “I wasn’t up there trying to strike everybody out. Just because my stuff was good, I struck guys out,’ but he used to get — as you know, he used to get really pissed off when his pitch count was high. He wanted guys to swing the bat, and he knew that sometimes he’d be a little erratic, and that would really irritate him, because he said, ‘I just wanted to throw strikes and let the guys swing.’ I’ve heard that from a lot of guys, a lot of Hall of Famers, so, that’s kind of the intentions we want these guys to throw [with].

“Strikeouts are sexy, we all know that. Home runs are sexy, we all know that, but there’s more to it when it comes to pitching, and like I said, if you want to pitch here consistently, we need to get you into the sixth or seventh inning, that’s where we need you to be.”

Cavalli made his 2022 Grapefruit League debut in Sunday’s game against the Houston Astros. How’d it go?