The Atlanta Braves chose a fire-baller with their first round pick in 2021, and Ryan Cusick quickly made mincemeat of Low-A in professional debut. The question now is whether his ridiculous arm talent will ever translate into a major league starter.
Midseason report card: Cusick immediately debuted at number 15 for Talking Chop, making us one of the lower rankings among any publication. Cusick will likely stay in the range as despite his success at Low-A there just is too small of a sample and too little to take from a college pitcher in Low-A to change his profile.
What we saw in 2021: Ryan Cusick was one of the nation’s top strikeout artists as a college starter, as in three seasons with Wake Forest he had 206 strikeouts in 158 innings. The problem was and is his control as he also walked 79 batters in his college career and had a 5.01 ERA. His senior season was certainly better but still less than one expects out of a first round arm. He had a 4.24 ERA in 12 starts with an eye-popping 108 strikeouts in 70 innings but 32 walks and 9 home runs allowed. His debut in Low-A was one of pure dominance as he had 34 strikeouts in 16 ⅓ innings with only four walks allowed. This is certainly phenomenal, but a Power 5 pitcher is supposed to succeed at Low-A and it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from it. The eye test showed exactly what the Braves drafted, which is a pitcher that throws a fastball upper 90’s and into the 100’s with tremendous carry and a couple of breaking balls with the curveball being the better at this stage. The walk rate was certainly a welcome site, but wasn’t necessarily indicative of any sudden command improvement.
2022 Outlook: Cusick’s focus going forward is simple, and it’s the command of his fastball. The Braves will likely have him work almost exclusively with that pitch at the lower levels in order to command it and the improvement in that area is paramount to him becoming a Major League starting pitcher. The stuff is good enough and despite the changeup not being a factor at this stage his curveball and slider should allow him to work as a starting pitcher. If the changeup shows improvement that could be another significant addition, even if it’s just a 40 grade showpiece to put the potential in the back of a hitter’s mind. The change has not been used yet in his short professional career. Cusick certainly has No. 2 starter potential, but the command is bad enough at this stage it would take quite a bit of development to even make him a back-end starter. If he can get it to even 40 he would have a shot at being a major league starter, but if the command stagnates he may not even be a reliable reliever. His massive frame is just hard to control and he may not even be able to get it down. The amount of risk involved with this college arm is the reason the TC crew is so much lower on him, though we recognize the potential that the Braves saw when the took him in the first round.