Jake Cousins was recently called up from AAA Nashville to pitch out of the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen. In his debut outing, he was impressive. Covering two innings in relief on June 21 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, he gave up nothing while striking out 5. If that is what we can expect from the 26 year old righty then the Brewers’ front office will have found one more diamond in the rough to make a significant contribution to this team.
Cousins' route to the major leagues has had its disappointments for him. Originally drafted in the 20th round in 2017 by the Washington Nationals, he suffered a lat strain in 2019. The Nationals subsequently released him, and he went into independent baseball, playing for the Schaumburg Boomers in the Frontier League.
Evidently he impressed enough there to catch the eyes of Brewers’ scouts. The Brewers’ organization signed him less than two months into his time with Schaumburg. He started his time with the Brewers’ in rookie ball, but has advanced quickly. Pitching between Biloxi and Nashville this season, he has a 2.55 ERA with 30 strikeouts and just 5 walks.
The question is, what can we expect moving forward by the big right hander who’s biggest claim to fame right now is being the cousin of NFL quarterback, Kirk Cousins? Jake Cousins spent his collegiate career at Penn where he was really good. Being a 20th round draft pick out of an Ivy League program, he didn’t get much of a chance even though his two seasons in Washington’s lower levels of the minors were not terrible. Washington’s impatience might be Milwaukee’s opportunity as the Brewers seem to have a way with Ivy League pitchers.
Just on first look, Cousins looks to have a true “out” pitch. His slider befulled Diamondbacks’ hitters in his debut. Coming out of college, Cousins did not have a lot of velocity as he topped out at 86 mph. Obviously that has changed as his slider was hitting that velocity and his fastball was 95-97 mph.
In his only outing, Cousins threw 35 pitches, 20 of which were 2-seam fastballs, 14 sliders, and 1 change up. That is likely his pitching repertoire. The slider plays up. As I mentioned, Diamondbacks’ hitters had no answer for it.
There is always the chance that his slider does flatten out and come into the hitting zone as the proverbial “cement mixer.” When that happens, the pitch is vulnerable to being hammered, but that is the case with any pitcher with a good slider. The question moving forward, is he able to get the pitch to do what he wants it to do. If he can, he will be another nice bullpen arm.
His other major offering is the 2-seam fastball. He did not have as strong of command with the fastball as he did the slider in his debut. However, he is able to hit the upper 90s with it from a low arm slot. He should be able to induce a lot of ground balls with that pitch as a result, and that is another area the Brewers’ front office seems keen to exploit.
He seemed to working up in the zone with the fastball in his debut, so Brewers’ coaches might be intentionally have him work up and outside the zone to change the hitter’s sight line. Brewers’ coaches will also want him to work down in the zone with the 2-seamer to get outs and to compliment the slider. Here is a passage from a Will Sammon piece about Justin Topa. Might the Brewers’ be doing something similar with Cousins?
Armed with convincing information from analytics, Topa said that Brewers minor-league pitching coordinator Cam Castro, major-league pitching coach Chris Hook and director of player development initiatives Jake McKinley encouraged him after spring training shut down last year to adopt more of a sweeping slider. The idea was a slider with east-west movement, traveling away from right-handed batters, would complement Topa’s two-seam fastball, enhancing his profile.
This seems consistent with what Counsins demonstrated at least in part. It certainly worked for Topa in 2020. Maybe it is a recipe for success. To reinforce this idea, here is more from the Sammon article about tapping into the untapped potential of independent ball players.
A right-hander, Cousins is a low slot guy who throws from 3 1/2 feet to the right of the mound. The Brewers told him, “Great, keep doing that, that’s good for you; throw fastballs in, you’ll get sink.” They said his slider was fine, don’t mess with it. Another off-speed pitch, Cousins heard during the meeting, was something he needed.
“That analytics meeting was huge,” Cousins said. “It’s a very individualized approach, where they can look at each guy’s analytics and they can tell you exactly what you need to do in order to make it into the big leagues.
“That’s exactly what you want. I don’t know all the organizations, but some of them, you’re on your own, you gotta figure it out. The Brewers, I feel like they kind of give you all the information you need to succeed.”
It looks like the other off-speed pitch is apt to show is the change up. Although he has a split-finger in his tool box too.
Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant