Cade Cavalli served as University of Oklahoma’s top starting pitcher and a designated hitter the days he didn’t take the mound as a sophomore last season.
After being a two-way player the last two years, Cavalli’s role for his junior season this spring will be different. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound right-handed hurler’s future is on the mound, and he will focus solely on pitching this spring after a notable sophomore season.
“This year, I just went to Skip (Johnson), since I have never focused on pitching, and said I wanted to focus on pitching,” said Cavalli on his conversation with the Oklahoma coach. “He said, ‘Heck yeah. Let’s do it.’ He was pretty fired up about it.”
Last season, Cavalli thrived as Oklahoma’s ace, despite missing three weeks with a stress reaction in his right arm. He believes the injury was caused by poor mechanics, which he’s focused on cleaning up this offseason.
He’s motivated to build on last season, prove he’s healthy and take the next step in his development as a pitcher this spring. As one of the team leaders, Cavalli also hopes to play a key role in leading Oklahoma deep into postseason play.
If Cavalli can show growth on the mound this season, he will position himself to be an early-round selection, and even maybe a first-round pick, in June’s MLB draft.
This spring marks the second time Cavalli will go through the draft process, as he was a top prospect as a high school senior in 2017. A back injury hurt his draft stock in 2017 and caused him to fall to the 29th round, which led him honoring his commitment to Oklahoma.
“I want to be No. 1 overall in the draft, and I think I have the talent to do that,” Cavalli said. “I know there’s a lot of questions about me and what I can do. They believe it’s in there and haven’t quite seen it yet, but I feel like this is a pretty big breakout year for me. It’s going to be good not only for myself but the team.”
After making 11 appearances and posting a 6.75 as a freshman in 2018, Cavalli focused more on pitching last season. He earned the top spot on Oklahoma’s pitching staff and showed tremendous growth, starting 12 games and recording a 3.28 ERA with 59 strikeouts and 35 walks allowed in 60 1/3 innings.
Cavalli has a four-pitch mix, featuring a fastball, slider, curveball and changeup, and throws from a clean and low-effort delivery out of a three-quarters arm slot. His best pitch is his fastball, which is an above-average offering, that he throws effortlessly in the mid-90s and touches 98 mph.
His curveball, which features power and depth, and his power slider also have served as reliable offerings for Cavalli.
“I feel like God gave me a little talent in this arm, and my fastball is something I can go out and establish every outing,” Cavalli said. “Once that’s established, I’ve worked really hard on my off-speed pitches. My slider has been there, but the curveball and changeup I think will be some pretty big strengths of mine for outpitches this season.”
Cavalli has average command and control, and he’s focused on refining those two areas this spring, he said.
He also hopes to make strides with his changeup, which he’s made a priority to improve this offseason. He’s altered his grip on the pitch this offseason, gripping it more like a circle changeup, in hopes of generating better feel for the pitch and to lower its speed.
“I think it will be a huge pitch for me this year because a lot of my stuff is hard,” Cavalli said. “My changeup had the movement I wanted last year, but it was hard. It was 89, 91 mph, so I’ve been trying to back it up and get it 86, 88 mph and keep the same movement profile. I’ve taken some pressure off the grip, and it’s kept the same movement potential up and down.”
Although he has a few areas he needs to improve, Cavalli’s development on the mound has been impressive. He didn’t start pitching until he was a sophomore in high school and believes he didn’t truly become a pitcher, instead of just a thrower, since his sophomore year at Oklahoma last year.
Cavalli, an Oklahoma native, was a well-regarded infield prospect throughout high school and served primarily in that role as a freshman at Oklahoma when he hit .319 in 72 at-bats.
“It’s a night and day difference,” said Cavalli on his development on the mound. “It looked like I am just standing up and throwing and that I didn’t know what to do. Skip and the staff taught me how to truly pitch. It’s a night and day difference. I know how to pitch now.”
Read more stories on top 2020 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for five years. He’s interviewed 191 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.