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The 2021 MLB draft is scheduled to take place during the All-Star break in July (starting this Sunday!). Between now and then we will be profiling several players who the Yankees may be considering. Predicting who a team will draft is a crapshoot, so hopefully if we profile enough players we’ll profile the one the Yankees take with their first round pick. You can view the full archive here. Today’s profile: Ryan Cusick.

Background

Cusick is a huge 6′-6″, 225 lb righthanded pitcher out of Wake Forest. He pitched out of the bullpen his freshman year in 2019 before moving into the rotation for 4 starts in last year’s pandemic season. This year, he has worked as a starter for the Demon Deacons. Cusick was ranked as the 115th best prospect in the 2018 draft, and was selected by the Reds in the 40th round but turned them down to play college ball.

Performance

The theme for Cusick is pretty straightforward: he strikes out lots of guys and walks too many. When the walks are up, he struggles. When the walks are down, he succeeds. As a freshman in 2019, he threw 65.2 innings, allowing 85 hits, walking 29, and striking out 55 which worked out to a 6.44 ERA. Last year, he somehow managed a 3.22 ERA despite walking 18 in just 22.1 IP, likely due to striking out 43 – which works out to a 17 K/9.

Cusick had his breakout last summer when he pitched in the Coastal Plain League where he threw 23.3 innings while walking just 9. The K’s were there as well – 40 in those 23.2 innings – and he had a 1.14 ERA. That performance put Cusick on the map for this year’s draft.

Coming into this season, he was selected to the Baseball America Preseason Second Team All-America and the Perfect Game Preseason Third Team All-American. He backed that up by throwing 70 innings of 4.24 ERA ball, walking 32 and striking out 108. Those 108 K’s worked out to a 13.89 K/9 which was highest in the ACC. The walks were down from nearly one every inning to a still-too-high one for every other inning, and he was named to the ACC Second Team. Here is video of Cusick:

Scouts Take

There is relative consensus on who Cusick is as a pitcher. He has a HUGE fastball, developing breaking ball, and weak changeup. Due to the lack of secondary pitch and command issues, there is significant reliever risk for Cusick.

MLB Pipeline ranks Cusick 26th in this year’s class giving him an eye-popping 70 grade on his heater. Here is their scouting report:

Cusick’s money pitch is his fastball, which can sit at 94-97 mph with high spin rates and riding action deep into games and has been clocked as high as 102. After struggling to come up with a reliable breaking ball, he has shown a much-improved 79-82 mph curveball this spring that can be a plus pitch at its best. He also has a sinking changeup that shows flashes of becoming a solid offering when he uses it, as well as a mid-80s slider that gets slurvy. 

There isn’t much effort in Cusick’s delivery and his arm works well, but he has yet to provide consistent strikes. As impressive as his arm strength is, he’ll have to be more efficient to succeed as a starter at higher levels. His huge 6-foot-6 frame and high arm slot provide angle and plane on his pitches and add to the difficulty of trying to barrel them.

mlb pipeline

Baseball America has a similar 70 grade on the heater, and ranks Cusick 39th overall. They highlight Cusick’s strong spin rates on both his fastball and curveball which is enticing. They also rate his fastball overall and fastball movement as the best in this year’s draft class.

FanGraphs ranks Cusick slightly higher at 20th overall saying his slurve is “plus when it’s located” and they clearly view him as a future closer due to his top notch stuff but limited command.

Keith Law of The Athletic is the highest on Cusick ranking him 12th! saying that his fastball has “enough life that nobody can hit it” while also mentioning huge downside risk.

Does he make sense?

A huge fastball that nobody can hit in today’s game? Yes, that absolutely is the type of player that you want to draft. With draft prospects, you look at their best tool and go from there – and Cusick’s best tool is a huge fastball that can’t be taught.

Watch that video above and tell me you can’t see Cusick getting hitters out right now with that fastball. That’s how good it is. Hitting 100 up in the zone with spin rates above 2,400 and over 7′ extension according to Lookout Landing is an elite, elite pitch.

Of course there is always the conversation right now about sticky stuff and how much stock we should put into spin rates and guys with elite fastballs. For me, I think the value of guys who can naturally throw with high spin rates is going to become even more valuable since fewer and fewer pitchers will be able to generate those types of pitches moving forward. I also assume that foreign substances are being introduced in the minors and not in college (a complete assumption, I have no idea whether or not this is true), and am thus taking college pitcher spin rates at face-value.

Photo via Wake Forest

The reason Cusick isn’t projected to go in the top-10 is because of how high risk he is. Right now his second best pitch is his slider, and even that has question marks surrounding it. Of course, the Yankees pride themselves on developing breaking balls especially with the new lab they have in Tampa.

Even with a huge fastball and decent slider, Cusick is a reliever at best with his current command. A bet on Cusick is really a bet on hoping you can teach him to throw strikes. It is encouraging that he kept the walks in check in Summer League and reduced them this past year.

The Yankees are known for taking guys who play in Wood Bat Leagues because they believe that performance will translate to Pro Ball, and Cusick excelled in that environment. Though, typically pitchers are at an advantage in those environments.

If the Yankees are going for upside, Cusick is the guy you take. With his huge frame and fastball, you already know he has one elite pitch with the possibility for another in his breaking ball. If he can develop even a serviceable changeup and average command that’s frontline starter stuff right there. And even if he can’t, that’s prototype closer material.

For me, that’s the real question – is taking a guy who is likely to end up as a closer worth a first round pick? And in this year’s draft, with so many other college pitchers who have already shown the ability to throw strikes, I’m not sure the answer is yes. As someone who favors upside, Cusick is intriguing to me though ultimately based on which pitcher’s are likely going to be available when the Yankees pick at 20th overall, I think someone like Gunner Hoglund makes more sense.

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