Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry and Matt Cronin present Nats reconstruction

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ROCHESTER, NY — Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry and Matt Cronin are on the Rochester Red Wings’ official roster, which means the next stage of the Washington Nationals’ rebuild is happening just south of Lake Ontario at Frontier Field. But even though their names have sparked excitement in the ballpark lately, this week has been a reminder that rebuilding is incremental.

Cavalli, Henry and Cronin are three of the Nationals’ top prospects. By early June, after Henry and Cronin had been promoted through the club’s Class AAA affiliate, all three were one step away from the majors. Still, the size of this step, and what it would take to complete it, will vary by player. Cavalli, 23, returned from a two-week break Wednesday night and worked three innings against the Worcester Red Sox. Cronin, a 24-year-old reliever, is resting for a bit, with Washington using a break plan now to kick off the season for many of its best arms. And Henry, 22, is in West Palm Beach, Fla., to get his shoulder treated.

Before going on the injured list, Henry recorded his only difficult outing of the year. Against Worcester, Cavalli needed 29 pitches to complete the first, threw two batters in the second and struggled to command his breaking balls throughout. Cronin has not pitched for Rochester since June 17. These are, in theory, the next big-name pitchers who might have a chance in Washington. It’s just going to take patience and time.

“You’re starting to see guys who hopefully will be pieces of the puzzle and bring us another championship,” Red Wings manager Matthew LeCroy said Wednesday afternoon. LeCroy also has Joan Adon, the 23-year-old right-hander who made it to the opening day lineup before arriving in Rochester with a 6.95 ERA in 12 starts with the Nationals.

“But what you have to understand is that the jump from AA to AAA is huge,” LeCroy continued. “And then maybe it will help you see what kind of leap it is from AAA to the big leagues. This is where it gets hard.”

As a boy, Cade Cavalli wrote down his goals and ambitions. Now his dreams are coming true.

Many within the organization believe the Red Wings have the right pitching coach for the job in Rafael Chaves. Players young and old love it. Three months into its first season here, it’s also received rave reviews from Washington’s pitching coordinator Sam Narron and others in the front office. Chaves, 53, has spent his entire 12-year playing career in the minors. Outside of his two years as the Seattle Mariners pitching coach, he has always been a minor league coach.

For the past three seasons, he served as director of pitching development for the Philadelphia Phillies. After being ousted during a player development overhaul, the Nationals hired him while remodeling their staff. Chaves is soft-spoken and smiles quickly. He is originally from Puerto Rico and bilingual, which helps him overcome language barriers. And his delivery – calm, measured, each word spoken as if balanced on the one before it – has its pitchers gripped.

“My job is to develop players. If I don’t do this, then why am I here? Chaves said. “I must be proud of their development. When they’re doing well, they’ve done a good job. When it’s not, I have to think, ‘Okay, where am I failing?’ It’s something that kept me in this game for a long time. I think it’s important that you care about your players and show them that.

Midway through the interview, Chaves was interrupted by Matt Lipka, one of Rochester’s outfielders, who yelled, “You put in this article this guy needs to get to the show!” And I love him.” About 30 seconds later Lucius Fox, an infielder, stopped to say, “The best coach! Put that in there!” At Lipka, Chaves paused and whispered, “I love you too.” To Fox, he only laughed, saying his goal is to get players to the majors, not himself.

Chaves has constantly evolved as a coach, learning technology and analysis, proving that curiosity can hide beneath an old-school exterior. He sees these tools as the best way to reach this generation.

“I had to be willing to learn and not be closed-minded,” Chaves explained. “The first step to solving a problem is that you have to accept it, right? Like people who have an addiction, they have to admit that they have an addiction. It’s no different with the people who resist change in this sport. I realized that if I don’t adapt to the game, the game is going to go over my head and go on without me.

Svrluga: Four outs in one inning? It was also a surprise for the Nationals.

Sitting in the Red Wings dugout, he discussed the rotational efficiency of Cronin’s high-end fastball and then the granular relationship between the fastball and Cavalli’s change. Did he come to like that side of the game?

“I think it’s very productive, yes, because it gives you objective information and they want to see that,” Chaves said. “It’s not rocket science. I didn’t have to build the machine, I just have to learn what the machine reads. It’s doable.

Between Chaves, Narron and LeCroy, the balance sheets of Cavalli, Cronin and Henry are emerging. Cavalli needs to refine his fastball control inside and outside the area. Southpaw Cronin, who had a 0.00 ERA in AA before a few bumps in Rochester, needs to refine his curve and throw more shots with it. Henry must stay on the mound.

In early August, once the trade deadline passes, the Nationals will likely pull a small handful of replacements from Rochester. But if Cavalli, Cronin or Henry aren’t among them – whether for health or performance reasons – it won’t be alarming. They are the opposite of palliatives in a lost season. They are supposed to be the future of the Nationals, bit by bit.

“We probably don’t talk enough about what the covid year meant for young players,” said Tyler Clippard, now a veteran Rochester reliever. “My 22-year-old season was literally where I learned the most of my career. So if Cade is what, 23, I really see him as 22. That goes for all those guys. They missed a year full of development and it’s no joke.

“I hope the organization gives them the time to grow and understand that. It will end up being better for everyone in the long run.

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