Ryan Cusick was an intriguing prep right-handed pitcher out of the Avon Old Farms School in Connecticut in 2018. Besides being a Wake Forest commit, Cusick also garnered attention from professional scouts in preparation for the 2018 MLB draft.
Cusick’s size and projection intrigued scouts. He also flashed plenty of potential. But his lack of consistency hindered his draft stock. The Cincinnati Reds selected Cusick in the 40th round of the 2018 draft.
Cusick honored his commitment to Wake Forest instead of turning pro. The decision to develop his skills at the collegiate level has worked out well for Cusick over the last 2½ years. He has made strides on the mound, increasing his fastball velocity by 5 to 10 mph while refining his off-speed pitches.
This spring, Cusick will have to show improvement with his secondary offerings and command. If he can take another step forward this season, Cusick will be one of the most sought after college pitchers in July’s draft.
Scouts project Cusick as a potential first-round pick in this year’s draft. Cusick isn’t focused on the draft attention, though. He believes the draft experience he received in high school will assist him as he goes through the draft process for a second time.
“It absolutely helps already going through the draft process once before,” Cusick said. “I think going through the process once makes me realize that the draft is a thing and it always is going to be there. Really, the way you approach it is what makes you have success or failure.
“At the end of the day, I am not a guy who looks at lists or is making calculations on how many spots I have to move up. I don’t really care about that. I think that I am a baseball player and whoever I get the chance to continue to play baseball for will be pretty cool.”
Cusick received opportunities to pitch immediately as a freshman at Wake Forest in 2019. He posted a 6.44 ERA with 55 strikeouts and 29 walks allowed in 65 2/3 innings pitched. He made 12 of his 19 appearances as a starting pitcher.
Cusick showed notable growth during his sophomore season last year. In four starts, he notched a 3.22 ERA with 43 strikeouts and 18 walks allowed in 22 1/3 innings. He believes the mechanical changes and his work on his breaking pitches in the months leading up to the season were the reasons for his success during the pandemic-shortened season.
Last summer, Cusick continued to thrive when he tallied 40 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings in the Coastal Plain League.
Cusick is a 6-foot-6, 225-pound right-handed pitcher who throws a four-seam fastball, curveball and changeup from a three-quarters arm slot and low-effort delivery. He is cerebral and has a desire to improve and refine his traits on the mound.
His best pitch is his above-average fastball. His fastball reached 101 mph last summer and consistently sits 94-97 mph with a high-spin rate. He is a fastball-dominate pitcher who isn’t afraid to attack batters inside.
This spring, Cusick plans to use his “repertoire a little differently” and mix his pitches more to make it less predictable for opposing hitters.
“My biggest strength in my game is probably just my willingness to compete,” Cusick said. “I don’t worry about if I am going to have success or failure. I just go out there and want to improve and compete. That’s what’s made me the best pitcher, and this year will continue to make me the best pitcher.”
Cusick’s secondary pitches are evolving offerings. He spent the offseason changing his breaking ball from a slider to a curveball. He also continued to refine his changeup in hopes of making it a quality third offering.
In previous years, Cusick’s breaking pitch was more of a slurve. He adjusted the grip, altered his mindset and refined his mechanics, he said. Now he gets on top of his breaking pitch, allowing it to have more depth than his slurve ever had while also giving him a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch.
His changeup sits in the high-80s and features some depth and horizontal movement. He regularly threw his changeup in the Coastal Plain League last summer, which allowed him to gain a better feel and more confidence in the pitch, he said.
Although both off-speed pitchers are developing offerings, the foundation is set for Cusick to make strides with both pitches this spring.
“I just want to continue to work on the development of my off-speed pitches,” Cusick said. “It is going to make my fastball faster, and I think it’s really going to complete my repertoire when I can depend on my off-speed to be there.”
Cusick has made tremendous strides in his first 2½ years at Wake Forest. He initially committed to the Demon Deacons due to their investment in developing pitchers and the university’s strong academics. They opened a state-of-the-art pitching lab for injury prevention and performance enhancement in October 2018.
Attending Wake Forest has been “the best decision” of his life, he said. Pitching coach John Hendricks and pitching lab coordinator Evan Wise have helped Cusick with all aspects of pitching. That work has helped Cusick develop into one of the top college pitching prospects for July’s draft.
Cusick hopes he can take another step forward this spring. He also wants to lead Wake Forest to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2017.
“I hope to get our team to a place we haven’t gone in a while,” Cusick said. “I don’t know exactly where that is, and I am not going to throw out any huge predictions. But I just think we have a great team and all the pieces. Hopefully, we can put it all together and we can have success.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for six years. He’s interviewed 253 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.