The 2020 draft class is beginning to take shape, but that doesn’t mean there’s not yet room for surprise entrants to the top ten. One of those players might be Oklahoma’s Cade Cavalli, who is currently well outside the top ten for Baseball America (27 among college players) and MLB Pipeline (28 overall), but comes in just outside the top ten over at FanGraphs.
Unlike most college players, Cavalli is a little bit of a mystery. He was primarily an offensive player until later in high school, and back issues kept him from playing much as a senior. As a freshman at Oklahoma, Cavalli split his time between first base and the mound, with mixed results on each end, batting just .202 (94 Ks in 193 ABs) and pitching to an ERA of almost 7 in 17.1 innings, with 18 strikeouts to 13 walks. Cavalli was much improved as a sophomore, dropping his ERA to 3.28 over 60 innings while striking out 59. Walks were still a problem, however (39), as were injuries: he missed three weeks in May with a stress reaction in his forearm. He also batted .319/.393/.611 in about 200 plate appearances.
What intrigues scouts about Cavalli despite the lackluster numbers is his size and stuff. At 6’4”/220, Cavalli has both excellent downhill plane and a strong lower half he uses to drive straight down the mound with efficiency and power. His injury history is curious, as his mechanics look mostly clean and the motion isn’t high-effort, despite the fact that Cavalli sits in the mid-90s with his fastball easily, touching as high as 98. His best secondary is a power curve, and he also throws a slider and a developing changeup. Cavalli’s natural power shows up in the bat as well; he’s crushed 10 HR and 14 2B/3B in 265 ABs, although his strikeout issues will limit him to the mound.
Teams that buy high on Cavalli are believers in his athleticism and raw stuff and betting on themselves to develop him well. Despite the easy velocity on his fastball with some late ride, his command issues cause him to fall behind in the count and make the fastball hittable, so that issue will need to be addressed in pro ball. Cavalli does throw more strikes when he backs off his velocity to the low 90s, so the challenge will be marrying that command with his elite velocity. There’s also some heavy lifting to be done with his underdeveloped secondaries since he has spent less time on the mound than his other college counterparts, although some teams might find the lack of mileage on his arm appealing. There’s also the injury history to consider, although the two issues are unrelated, and Cavalli was just as effective in his return from the strained forearm.
2020 is an important year for all players hoping to be drafted in the spring, but Cavalli is one of the more high-variance players in the draft. With his size and stuff, a strong year could rocket him into top ten consideration, especially if he turns his focus to pitching only. If the command issues persist or he gets injured again, he’ll find himself quickly leapfrogged by other players. Either way, Cavalli’s name is one worth knowing, whether as a top ten pick or a potential late-round steal.