Sunday night the Atlanta Braves selected RHP pitcher Ryan Cusick in the first round of the 2021 Rule 4.
The Atlanta Braves did what the mocks predicted and selected a pitcher but didn’t select any names associated with them before Sunday.
Fastball: 70 | Curveball: 55 | SLIDER: 50 | Changeup: 40 | Control: 45
(Scouting grades are combined from BA and MLBPipeline)
Cusick is a Kyle Muller-sized pitcher, 6’-6, 225 pounds, from Sudbury, Massachusetts, who relies on a 70-grade fastball and a 55-grade curve to strike hitters out.
In 158 innings, he struck out 206 batters; his 11.73 K/9 rate ranks third in Wake Forest history. The Braves passed over at least one pitcher with significantly better numbers to draft Cusick. Why? I think the answer is velocity plus spin.
Cusick’s heater sits around 95 mph and touched 100-101 mph with solid life. He flashes a plus curve that comes in near 80 mph and a slider that can get a little slurvey. Baseball America calls this one pitch, but MLB Pipeline credits him with two breaking pitches. Whether you call it one or two pitches, Scouts say Cusick produces quality spin and biting movement but lacks consistency.
Cusick controls his pitches but doesn’t command them well. He throws strikes with the heater, but scouts believe he’ll need to improve his command significantly to become a starter and may end up a late-inning reliever. ESPN believes the Braves can help him make the adjustments.
"Atlanta is one of the best franchises in baseball when it comes to developing pitchers, and there’s plenty to work with considering Cusick’s combination of size and fastball velocity. – Mullen"
I know some question the ESPN rationale, but we lack a real baseline to judge. Since 2019, Alex Anthopoulos has completely revamped the Atlanta Braves pitching development program. After getting their new program in place for 2019, the COVID-19 situation halted everything for players who were not at the alternate location.
As Jake wrote, pitchers taken in the shortened 2020 draft are performing well so far; hopefully, Cusick will make the needed adjustments and settle in as a number three starter.
We won’t know for a while how much the Atlanta Braves will pay Cusick as a signing bonus, but I suspect he comes in under-slot, allowing the team to pay more for players in other rounds.
That’s a wrap
After watching how the current Atlanta Braves front office evaluates pitchers, it’s safe to say spin-rate is high on their list. When the club signed Drew Smyly, they touted an increased spin rate as one factor that led to more strikeouts.
Cusick throws easy gas and produces quality spin sans any illegal substance assistance. The team must feel they can help him make the adjustments needed to improve both command and consistency.
The draft continues today with Rounds 2 through 10, beginning at 1pm Eastern.