The Josh Bell acquisition cost the Washington Nationals their seventh rated prospect when Eddy Yean went to the Pirates as the centerpiece of that trade. Subsequently, there have been rumors swirling about other potential trades involving Kris Bryant and Eugenio Suarez.
Nats have talked to the Reds about 3B Eugenio Suarez. Nothing imminent or believed anywhere close. Kieboom would make sense in a package. Prospects the Nats don’t want to deal: Rutledge, Cavalli, Garcia.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 18, 2020
Wisely, as Jon Heyman pointed out on December 18, the Nats do not want to deal their top prospects in Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli as well as 20-year-old Luis Garcia who technically exceeded his rookie status and can no longer rate as a prospect. Heyman basically tweeted the same again yesterday about Eugenio Suarez, Rutledge and Cavalli sans Garcia. Currently, Rutledge and Cavalli hold the top-two spots in both Baseball America rankings as well as MLB Pipeline.
In addition, the Nats will be adding more prospects on Friday when they officially sign Armando Cruz and others as part of the opening to the international free agency signings’ period.
So why are some of these Nats prospects seemingly off-limits?
That question seems more dependent on the quality of the players and how general manager Mike Rizzo and his development staff views them. Protecting players like that speaks highly to how the Nats’ farm system is shaping up as it was decimated by trading away key prospects and players the previous five seasons to build to win a World Series. Now the team must regroup for another run and Rutledge, Cavalli, and Garcia could be keys to that success.
In 2019 and 2020, the Nats used their first round picks to choose Rutledge and Cavalli in consecutive seasons. Both almost fit a similar mold in that they had more advanced secondary pitches, and today they both are working with very similar pitching arsenals with four pitches each (fastball, changeup, slider, curveball). Both players were part of the 60-man player pool and were sent to the Alternate Training Site at Fredericksburg with several top prospects. It immediately thrusted these top prospects into advanced competition.
We got to talk to both Rutledge and Cavalli to see what they are all about.
“I still have a lot of work to do,” Rutledge told us in an exclusive interview. “I try to just take it like I’m still the underdog like I was in junior college, and take that mindset where I have to work harder than everyone else to continue to climb. … Everything is a work in progress.”
Cavalli has a similar approach in continual improvement and how everything for him is also a work in progress.
“The Nats sent me a throwing program, and a strength and conditioning program,” Cavalli said in his talk with us. “My body feels in tip-top shape. I had a great summer. I’m trying to fine-tune what I’m doing like pitch sequencing, and I would love to make my slider a tiny more consistent. I want to get to where I know where the movement profile will be on my slider (vertical and horizontal). I’m always working on fastball command, changeup command. There’s a difference between control and command.”
“Sometimes guys will have control of them and throw them for a strike, but can you throw it to that little area of the zone, that is a cold zone on that hitter. Can I go changeup, glove side, away to a righty, low and away and run it back? That’s a pitch that I work on. It’s the little details. Always have a movement profile to be the way I want it and repeat a delivery. That’s the focus I bring into it. The intensity, and I’m just trying to make it right. An impact from the start.”
You can see why the Nationals are so excited about Rutledge and Cavalli. Both are focusing on that control and command and repeating their mechanics from the same arm slot. One of the interesting parts of the conversation was Cavalli talking about when he was a first baseman and would hunt the fastball and the best pitchers came at him with a good changeup from the same arm slot. It taught him when he converted to pitching full-time that it is a deadly pitch when disguised as a fastball. Pitching is the art of deception as Sandy Koufax said, and Cavalli agreed.
“The changeup was my least favorite pitch to face as a hitter,” Cavalli continued. “It looks like a fastball but it’s not. Mine has a little fade at the end. It keeps guys honest, and it makes your fastball play up. And especially for hard-throwing guys if they have a changeup, it is tough sledding for the hitters. You got to be aggressive with it. I’ve truly tried to develop my circle change, and I believe it is one of my out-pitches. So I’m excited to keep developing it and keep using it as much as possible in the right sequences.”
“I appreciate [Baseball America] talking about my curveball. I work crazy hard on it. Getting my body and arm to move the right way on these pitches. It is 83-86 (mph) a true 12-6 down movement on it. I put a ton effort into it with the same arm speed as my fastball. It’s a spike curveball with a knuckle on it with full extension and the right hand position at release. Let the grip work.”
Modestly, Cavalli says he has a lot more to prove and a lot more to develop. It cannot be said enough, for these young prospects it is a work in progress.
“Cavalli was a talent we thought maybe would have gone in the Top-10,” said Mark Scialabba, Assistant General Manager of Player Development. “Physical, strong, powerful frame, easy arm action and a delivery that he can repeat. He’s really starting to learn how to maximize the use of his pitches.”
“[Rutledge] stayed aggressive. He stayed aggressive with his delivery. He really improved in his ability to repeat his delivery. … He is physically imposing. A large human being. He’s an extremely hard-worker and detail oriented. … He is really blossoming before our eyes with his fastball command. It is upper 90’s and will touch a 100. … His slider is his go-to secondary pitch. A wipeout slider, and a curveball he can flip in there. His changeup is continuing to evolve. All the makings of a frontline pitcher.”
“[Cavalli] has four pitches that he can throw for strikes. At times they all play out ‘plus.’ He can pitch certain days he’s 96 with a 2-seamer with late run to it. He can throw a 4-seamer that he commands very well up to 100, there’s days he’s 97-98. Then he can drop in a changeup that has I think has potential to be a wipeout ‘plus’ pitch down the road. He locates it extremely well down in the bottom of the zone. He has a slider that is hard with almost cutter action to it but does have the depth to call it a slider, 89 to 90. And a curveball that is more of a power downer pitch at 83, 86. He’s coming at you with power. He does have the ability to repeat his arm [slot] with the changeup so he can sell that. We are thrilled with where he is.”
Rutledge and Cavalli have formed a friendship. Cavalli told us that he is going to try to get to Palm Beach soon so he can workout with Rutledge. It was Rutledge who told us that Cavalli cut his hair a few times during their time in minor league camp, and Cavalli said that Rutledge reciprocated with some stuffed french toast with some sort of jelly. That got expanded on our Twitter when we learned that it was all about the mascarpone. If you want to hear Cavalli on The Nats Report podcast, click here.
Hopefully you now know why the Nats do not want to trade Rutledge or Cavalli.