Cavalli developing into Nats' best pitching prospect since Giolito


As the Nationals’ big-league rotation struggles to stay healthy and maintain the high level of success it’s sustained over the last decade, a potential new weapon has emerged down on the farm.

Right-hander Cade Cavalli, the Nationals’ first-round pick out of Oklahoma last June, has posted a 1.77 ERA in seven starts for High-A Wilmington this season following a 15-strikeout performance Sunday that saw him allow no hits over seven scoreless innings.

Cavalli leads all minor-league pitchers with 71 strikeouts so far in 2021. He was just named the 33rd overall prospect by Baseball America on Monday, a 49-spot jump that pushed him into the top 10 among pitchers. It’s the first time the Nationals have had a pitcher in the top 50 of BA’s prospect rankings since 2016 when Lucas Giolito entered the year at No. 5.

The Nationals have built their roster around starting pitching ever since they broke out as a playoff contender in 2012. However, the club hasn’t developed many starters in the minors during that time.

Only three of the pitchers they’ve drafted in the first round since 2012 are in the majors. Two (Giolito and Dane Dunning) are on other teams and the other is Erick Fedde, who is still attempting to prove he can hold a rotation spot in Washington.

The Blue Rocks have played host to all three of the Nationals’ top pitching prospects this season, deploying Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge and Cole Henry out of the rotation. Rutledge is on the Injured List with a minor shoulder injury while Henry has a 3.00 ERA and 35 strikeouts (13.1 K/9) in five starts. Cavalli should be considered the first candidate of the three to be promoted to Double-A Harrisburg, a move the Nationals could make sooner rather than later at this rate.

If all went well at Double-A, Cavalli would be a favorite to make the majors as a September call-up should the Nationals fall out of contention or suffer a string of injuries. Washington entered play Sunday with a 26-35 record, eight-and-a-half games back of the New York Mets in the NL East.

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