Cincinnati @ Washington
Cincinnati +125 over Washington

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Posted at 4:00 PM EST and odds are subject to change.

Cincinnati +125 over Washington

Mike Minor (LHP - CIN) is 2-10 with an ERA of 6.44 after 14 starts covering 73 innings. On paper, it’s ugly and is the main reason why the Nationals are favored here. Not only are the Nats favored, they’re a pretty significant favorite and we’re going to go out on a limb and suggest the price is absurd. While fluctuations in Minor’s strand rate over the years have had him running the gamut from near-ace to utterly replaceable, his xERA and skills say he's essentially been the same pitcher for the last four years. His horrible (and very unlucky) surface stats this year provides a nice opportunity to acquire him cheaply here, which is precisely what we’re about to do not because we believe or trust Minor but because Washington and its rookie pitcher cannot be this big a price.

We are not sure where you get your baseball information or projections but surely some folks out there will read about Cade Cavalli (RHP - WAS) being a great prospect within the Nats organization. Some reporters even suggested he should have made the team out of spring after being the most impressive pitcher in camp (11/1 K/BB in 8 IP). However, we’ll rebut all of that and warn you not to buy into it. The post-Soto Nationals, desperate to maintain any sense of relevance amidst a likely sale of the team, have called up their top pitching prospect.

Cavalli was a prominent Oklahoma two-way prep prospect for the 2017 Draft who didn’t sign as a 29th-round Atlanta draftee. He enrolled at the University of Oklahoma and was actually their semi-regular first baseman as a true freshman in 2018, hitting an empty .202 and striking out 40 percent of the time; he struggled just as badly in 17.1 innings on the mound, posting a 6.75 ERA and 18/13 K/BB ratio. Despite that lack of early success, continued walk issues, and a stress reaction in his arm that caused him to miss three weeks, he emerged as Oklahoma’s Friday starter in 2019, pitching to a 3.28 ERA while also eclipsing a 1.000 OPS as a part-time DH. He pushed his way into first-round consideration with a star turn for the collegiate national team his sophomore summer and gave up hitting to focus on his mound work. For four 2020 starts before the pandemic shut down college baseball, Cavalli looked like the best amateur pitcher in the country, running a 37/5 K/BB ratio. Because of the latent injury concerns and his relatively thin track record of high level work, he slipped on draft day to the No. 22 pick, signing for the $3.03 million slot value.

His pro debut went swimmingly for the most part: utter domination at High-A and Double-A, a star turn as the hardest throwing pitcher at the Futures Game. He pitched poorly for six starts at Triple-A to end the season, but it was at the end of a long pro debut and making it to Triple-A in your pro debut is a sign of success. He has been better at Triple-A this season, but not great until very recently amidst increasing concerns about his command and trouble getting whiffs.

Cavalli throws absolute gas. He regularly hits the upper-90s and got into triple-digits at the Futures Game last year. His fastball can get easy whiffs up in the zone when he’s commanding it, but he often doesn’t command it well. When it’s just mid-90s—and that’s mostly where he sits as a starter—and he’s not hitting his spots, he can get shelled when challenging hitters.

Cavalli has a slider and a power curve which are sometimes lumped together as one “breaking ball” because they’re thrown in the same mid-80s-to-low-90s velocity band. They’ve both flashed plus a bunch in recent times, and the curve even flashes a little more on the right day, but consistency has been a significant problem. His firm high-80s-to-low-90s changeup flashed plus back in college but has been more fringe-average as a pro. He really needs something to get chases down with and hasn’t had that consistently in Triple-A. That’s a problem.

So on the precipice of the majors, here’s where we’re at: he’s “only” a grade of fastball command and one of those offspeeds which have all flashed jumping into a consistent out pitch away from being a potential front-of-the-rotation starter. But those are bigger final gains than they may seem like, and he hasn’t shown a lot of signs of getting there through 26 Triple-A starts. Given Cavalli’s significant troubles adjusting to Triple-A hitting late last year and early this season, it might take him a little bit to figure out the nuances of pitching to MLB hitters. It’s reasonable to expect similar struggles in his first taste of the majors that he experienced when moving up to Triple-A, where it took him a good 12-13 turns before he started to look comfortable. There’s clearly the arsenal depth here to support him when he’s a significant underdog but as the chalk, we must understand that he’s not close to being a finished product, and the Nats clearly want to get that adjustment period started now. Now that you have the real skinny on who he is, you have choices to make. Our choice is to fade an unproven starter at this level with very shaky command while playing for a bad baseball team. What’s yours?

Our Pick

Cincinnati +125 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.50)