Could one unheralded SF Giants pitching prospect be breaking out right before our eyes?

Cumming is yet another diamond in the rough find for the Giants who is looking like the best-performing pitcher in the farm system this year.
The player that we are going to talk about today is the one with the number 28 on the jersey. Buckle up.
The player that we are going to talk about today is the one with the number 28 on the jersey. Buckle up. / Ben Lonergan/The Register-Guard / USA

The journey of SF Giants pitching prospect Dylan Cumming to where he is today starts in Chicago. As a prepster, he was a scrawny righty who could pitch but has only topped 84 mph with his fastball. As a result, he only had one scholarship offer on the table: a chance to pitch at Chicago State. He pitched for three years at Chicago State, being given a spot in the rotation while also pitching out of the pen at times, totaling 147.1 innings in three years (including the shortened pandemic year where he was mostly a starter).

Could one unheralded SF Giants pitching prospect be breaking out right before our eyes?

However, his journey could have been over when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, bringing the status of the program into a big flux, so he decided to enter the transfer portal and joined Liberty University.

It was at Liberty that Cumming "settled into his own" as a pitcher. His overall numbers in college were solid if not spectacular, so he pitched in the Appalachian League throughout the summer of 2022 leading up to the draft. He performed very well in the Appy League with a 1.67 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning pitched but ultimately went undrafted. He had hoped to sign with a Minor League team after the summer league ended but no team, unfortunately, reached out with an offer.

When the Appalachian League stint did not work out, Cumming decided to take his journey to Tread Athletics, a baseball facility in North Carolina renowned for developing pitchers through technology. One of Cumming's coaches at Liberty has a connection with Coan McAlpine, the co-founder and current CEO of the facility. At Tread, each player is paired with a performance coach and Dylan has Ryan Kirk to guide his progress.

Kirk gave a sneak peek at what the facility is all about. "(Tread Athletics) is a remote training service for pitchers. Basically how it works is every athlete when they sign up submits a bunch of different information about themselves (height, weight, velocity, injury history, their goals, etc) as well as assessment videos of their pitching mechanics, offspeed pitches, general body composition, and various mobility tests."

"Based on all of that information, we build out a program to attack whatever they need to work on to reach their goals which includes throwing, strength & conditioning, mobility, and nutrition. And then us coaches are there to help and guide them every step of the way, whether that's remotely or in person at our facility.", Kirk added.

Kirk mentioned that Dylan "moved really well on the mound from a mechanical standpoint, there weren't really any glaring mobility issues, he had good college numbers, and his offspeed was pretty solid as well." Dylan worked his butt off at Tread under the guidance of Kirk and he showcased his skills at their pro day. In the days after performing at the pro day, only one team, the San Francisco Giants, offered him a Minor League contract, which he officially signed on February 25th.

Dylan took the offer without hesitation. "It was super gratifying at first. It was like 'It was awesome, my foot's in the door.'", he said after the first days of soaking in the atmosphere and the general environment of being a professional player. He quickly realized that it was "go time" and "now that I'm here, I've got to show them what I got". "I'm not here to just throw a couple of baseballs and be done. I'm here to move up and impact the big league team eventually.", he emphasized.

At Tread, Cumming refined his arsenal which include his trademark sweeper. I mean, the title of his videos on the facility's YouTube channel is this:

Cumming has around two to three different sliders that he is currently throwing, the usual sweeper in the low-80s, a high-70s offering where he can create more depth in exchange for less velocity, and a more firm that is a tick higher than the normal sweeper. "(The type of sweeper that I throw) is kind of like manipulated by the situation, righty (or) lefty, what (the hitter) have already seen. (...) It's basically unlocked the strike zone for me.", Cumming said. Kirk added that the trademark sweeper was "already there" when he arrived at Tread and they did not try to mess around the pitch.

San Jose is where Cumming had his first true taste of pro ball action. He started seven times, which is as many as his save opportunities. In most of his outings though, he was as a piggyback starter pitching in three to four innings stints. He was a reliable option whenever he got the call with seven wins, six saves, 36 walks, 86 strikeouts, and a 2.93 ERA in 92 innings.

When I asked if he prefers a routine or being versatile, Dylan preferred being a starter when he was in college because of the guaranteed innings but has now embraced getting ready to hear his name out of the pen from time to time. "I like the feeling of (pitching out) the bullpen, just throw a bunch of sweepers and hopefully get some strikeouts, throw one inning, and you're back in the game two games later. That was always fun. (laughs) At the same time, being to build off an arsenal over the course of three to five innings, that's also really fun to do as a starter."

Dylan also particularly highlighted the work of San Jose pitching coach Dan Runzler, mentioning his ability to mold his advice to the playstyle of each pitcher in the lil' Gigantes' staff, whether they're "going out there and chucking" or an analytically-driven approach. "I appreciate (that he knew) that a lot of what I do is off of feel, and if I needed to work on something, he would allow me to do it.", he mentioned.

Last year's San Jose pitching staff was loaded with the names of Carson Whisenhunt, Hayden Birdsong, Liam Simon, Gerelmi Maldonado, among others where they lead the California League in team ERA and were second in strikeouts. And yet, he felt there are no clashes between the pitchers in the staff and is instead having a good time overall.

"Even though everyone is trying to get up (the level) and everyone is trying to move at their own pace, you also just sit there and appreciate that these guys are nasty and doing their thing.", Dylan said. He particularly raved about the flame-throwing Maldonado. "Obviously, being a Latin player, I don't have the best communication with him all the time. But, just going out there, watching him shove, throwing 100 mph dang near every time, (it was a blast)."

This winter, to take his game to the next level, Cumming made a couple of adjustments. First off is him adding weight which correlates to an uptick in velocity, one thing he mentioned that both the Giants and Tread emphasized. "The main takeaway was that gaining weight and getting stronger needed to be the main goal. His strength numbers were pretty low and 165-170 ish lbs is pretty underweight for someone that's 6'4". Plus if you looked at his general body composition, it was pretty obvious that there was a lot of room to fill out. (laughs)", Kirk detailed.

Constant trips to the weight room and a nutrition plan focused on Dylan gaining weight by both the Giants and Tread positively affected him as a pitcher and as a person. He's gained 10-15 pounds of muscle and it has made his fastball tick up to 94 mph compared to the 92 mph, often sitting at 88-90 mph, that he was topping out with San Jose last year.

Second, is adding a cutter to his arsenal, a pitch that gives hitters a "harder" look off his sweeper, as he said that it "opened up" the potential of his sweeper even further. He added that he can "set up hitters with a cutter inside to a lefty or a cutter outside to a righty, followed by a sweeper to get them to chase off the plate." Kirk detailed the process of developing Dylan's cutter. "We messed around with a lot of grips but most of them were resulting in too much horizontal movement and were too slow. The one we ended up with is literally just a typical four-seam fastball grip but he just tries to cut it/get on the side of the ball."

He's also adjusted his pitch usage, upping the use of his changeup and four-seamer more to give hitters even more problems to deal with. Given Dylan's 3/4 arm slot and finger orientation, the four-seamer does not exactly have the best carry in the world but it certainly helped the changeup. However, the cross-seamer had 12-14 inches of carry which is solid for Dylan's release height, per Kirk.

Before the 2024 season started though, someone up above had one more wrench to throw to Dylan. He was involved in an armed robbery incident where he had his car stolen but he still insisted on heading to Tread for his bullpen session. Here is his personal detail of the incident:

"I was at a McDonald’s grabbing a quick breakfast when a young guy came asking for money. I told him I didn’t have any, then he flashed a gun and told me to get out of the car. I obviously listened and got out. He took it and drove off with all my stuff. I had just the clothes on my body. After the cops got there I asked for a ride and they said “ Home?” And I said no I have to get to my facility, haha. So I got there via a police drop-off and threw a great bullpen when I got there, haha. I wasn’t going to let the robber ruin my day and ruin my bullpen."

Luckily, he was fine after the incident. The stolen car though, was not. Dylan got a hold of the information that the thief pawned his stolen car to a person who crashed it after a high-speed chase. At the end, he had to buy another car to get to Tread for his bullpens.

That hiccup did not hamper Cumming at all as the results so far have been glorious. The strikeouts are up, the walks are way down, and the opponent's batting average is way below the Mendoza line at .117. In 18 innings pitched in April, Cumming has only allowed just one earned run with a mind-blowing 0.61 WHIP. He's allowed just two hits or less in four out of the five outings so far, with one in particular being the starting pitcher in the first no-hitter of the 2024 season. When I asked about the no-hitter, Dylan said:

"It was unbelievable to be a part of. After I came out, I wasn’t necessarily even thinking about it but after Sinacola’s second inning, I kind of realized it was still alive and was like, 'Oh, man! There’s a chance!' (laughs) I tried to keep myself occupied with conversation throughout the game so I didn’t stress about the no-hitter. I’ve never been a part of one in a 9-inning game so it was pretty special. Both Sinacola and Corry threw so well and it was bound to happen with the two of them in there pounding the zone with all pitches."

Dominant pitching has been the theme for the Emeralds in the first month of the season under the helm of last year's San Jose Giants manager Jeremiah Knackstedt. After a month of play, the Emeralds currently paces the Northwest League with a 16-6 record with the team leading the league in OPS and stolen bases on offense and ERA, strikeouts, WHIP, and opponent's batting average on defense.

Dylan sang his praises for Knackstedt, noting him as a "super down-to-earth guy". "We all love him, he just knows ball. The main thing for him is 'let's win ballgames, everything else comes second'." He also gave a shoutout to San Jose hitting coach Travis Ishikawa and Emeralds pitching coach Mario Rodriguez.

As the weather starts warming up, Cumming should be one of the first to earn a mid-season promotion this season. When asked about those possibilities, he does not specifically have any goals in mind and is only focused on the task at hand, which is becoming more consistent with the arsenal that he has. "Now, I don't know if it comes down to adding anything else, more than just refining and making sure that what I am throwing right now is going to get more consistent and more controlled. Can I eventually get all five of those pitches to a point where I could throw them at any count? That would be the ideal, whether that's by the end of this year, like the next couple of years, that's the end goal.", Cumming added.

This rise from a relative unknown to one of the best-performing prospects in the organization this year comes from the competitiveness that he has. "I hate when the other team is better than me, (so) I grind until I feel I am as good as I can get." He was a Tigers fan growing up, and he looked up to known on-mound psychopaths Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. "They're animals. They go out there and they just go crazy. They want nothing more than to strike the batter out. That kind of mentality is what I try to emulate and that definitely leads to success, in my opinion. If you got that dawg mentality, you are likely going to shove your way through (the Minors)."

Now that he is trying to make his way to the big leagues with the team that beat his favorite team a dozen years ago, it is time to celebrate the pitchers like Cumming who have continually grinded their way to relevance and into the public sphere. It just goes to show that, especially for pitchers, age is just a number. With the advanced technology at the hands of dedicated coaches and an inner flame to push the way through, anyone, like soon-to-be 25-year-old Cumming, can make it happen.