2022 Braves Prospects Best Tools: Best fastball

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

-Clint Manry

Using my 2022 Braves Offseason Prospect List, I recently started a Best Tools series, beginning with the system’s Best Overall Bat. Today I’m moving on to the next tool – best fastball.

Explanation of what Best Fastball means: this one’s pretty easy, but best fastball simply means the prospect pitcher that not only has the highest velocity with the offering but is also able to command it consistently. The Braves have plenty of flamethrowers among its prospect list, but not all of them have developed their fastball well enough to pound the strike zone. The following players throw heat AND strikes.

BEST FASTBALL TOOL (TOP 5)

RankPlayerRHP / LHP’22 Prospect rank
1Kyle MullerLHP1st
2Ryan CusickRHP12th
3Victor VodnikRHP18th
4Spencer StriderRHP8th
5William WoodsRHP24th
Other notable candidates: Jared Shuster, LHP / Bryce Elder, RHP

As you can see, not only do I have Muller as the top prospect in the Braves system but I also believe that he has the best fastball, a pitch FanGraphs gives a 70-grade. Thanks to his 6’7”, 250-pound frame, the 24-year-old consistently throws his heater 95-96 MPH, oftentimes running it up to 98 MPH, which is absolute hell on opposing batters considering he also has two above-average breaking balls. Muller’s command isn’t great yet, but it was plenty good enough in 2021, allowing him to debut in Atlanta and post a 4.17 ERA in eight starts (and one relief appearance). It’s not all gas for this kid, but Muller’s fastball is what has allowed him to become the top prospect in the organization and it’s also what’ll give him a shot to compete for a spot in the Braves rotation come this spring.

It’s difficult to get a good read on Cusick, given he’s only made six Single-A starts as a pro. But even though the competition level was way too easy in 2021, there’s no doubt that he wields one of the better fastballs in the system. In FanGraphs updated 2021 Braves Prospect List, the site gave Cusick’s heater a 70-grade, and after becoming Atlanta’s top pick this past summer, the kid went out and overpowered opposing batters to the tune of 18.7 strikeouts per nine. There are questions regarding his command and I’m sure that fastball won’t be as dominant as he moves up the minors, but there’s a reason the Braves took the 6-foot-6, 235-pound righty first.

Vodnik is nowhere near the size of Muller or Cusick (6’0”, 200 lbs.), so it’s even more impressive that he’s able to run his fastball up into the mid-90s MPH, while sitting at 92-96 MPH. The righty reliever-turned-starter prospect reportedly has a ton of cut on his heater as well, and with his low release-point, the pitch is able to sneak up on batters, making it even harder to time. It’s the other offerings that will determine whether or not Vodnik sticks it as a starter or not; but for now, his fastball/power curve is a hellacious combination.

We didn’t see much of Woods last season as he only logged 10 2/3 innings in the minors. But make no mistake, this is still an exciting prospect in the Braves system, thanks to a rather substantial velo-jump during the 2020-21 offseason. Now the righty sits 96-99 MPH and is easily able to crank it up to 100 MPH when needed, making him most likely the hardest throwing prospect in the organization. However, with a career average of 5.1 walks per nine so far, Woods’ command has yet to fully develop. Still, that kind of gas is rarely squared up, so if the right-hander can just hone it in a bit, he has a chance to become a mid-rotation starter in the majors, or an electric high-leverage reliever.

Strider made it all the way to the majors in 2021, which was quite the feat considering it was just his first year on the mound as a pro. The Braves fourth-round pick from 2019 made two appearances out of the bullpen, and overall, he looked really good. The 23-year-old sits in the mid-90s MPH but is now able to touch 97-98 MPH, which makes his fastball/curve a pretty nasty combination. Now the question is whether he can develop that third pitch (a changeup) to solidify himself as a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher in the majors. Either way, his fastball plays really well in the bigs.

Ryan Cusick will begin pro career tonight

Thursday, August 12, 2021

-Clint Manry

The Braves top pick from this year’s draft, right-hander Ryan Cusick, will start his professional career with Single-A Augusta.

Cusick, 21-years-old, went 24th overall in the 2021 MLB Draft, following a solid career at Wake Forest (where the Braves 2020 top pick, Jared Shuster, came from as well). In three collegiate seasons, Cusick racked up 158 innings while compiling a 5.01 ERA to go with 11.7 strikeouts per nine and 4.5 walks.

It’s very likely, given it’s his first outing of the year, that Cusick is on a pretty strict pitch count tonight. However, it’s exciting to see what the Braves top pick has to offer in a live setting. First pitch on Thursday is slated for 7:05 PM (ET) as Augusta will matchup with Kannapolis.

Braves 2021 MLB Draft Tracker

Monday, July 12, 2021

-Clint Manry

BRAVES 2021 DRAFT PICKS

RDPLAYER
1Ryan Cusick (RHP)
2Spencer Schwellenbach (RHP/SS)
3Dylan Dodd (LHP)
4Cal Conley (SS)
5Luke Waddell (SS)
6Justyn-Henry Malloy (3B)
7AJ Smith-Shawver (RHP)
8Tyler Collins (OF)
9Liam McGill (C)
10Dylan Spain (RHP)
11Adam Shoemaker (LHP)
12Andrew Hoffman (RHP)
13Adam Zebrowski (C)
14Caleb Durbin (SS)
15Christian Robinson (OF)
16Kris Anglin (LHP)
17Tyler Tolve (C)
18Austin Smith (RHP)
19 Samuel Strickland (LHP)
20Ty Evans (OF)