Sean Newcomb, LHP
The Angels’ first rounder of a year ago made his High-A debut on Saturday night, showing off the size, stuff, and raw material of a future mid-rotation starter. He’s a big tree trunk of a man at a listed 6’5", 245 pounds, but it is well-distributed weight draped off broad shoulders and a thick backside. He’s a physically impressive player, and it’s easy to envision hanging 200 innings a year on him.
There’s some stiffness in the lower half of Newcomb’s delivery at takeaway, but his arm action is loose to the point of release and the overall motion is quite easy. His rock off the rubber is more of a stuttered slide, and it can lead to some problems with tempo as he gets into his motion. His hand position remains consistently stable and shoulder-high through his turn, with a hand break that gives way to plus arm speed in his swing and culminates with a three-quarter release. The upper body works consistently well and in concert.
He lacks some notable consistency in his lower half, however. In addition to the issues with his initial rock, his leg kick is quick to its apex and lacks rhythm. That can create some rough edges in his weight transfer as he drives forward, and his front foot can get heavy at strike to throw his release off kilter just enough. The transfer issue helped undo his command notably in the latter half of this outing, as he fought his tempo inconsistencies that kept his arm from getting to slot on time. It’s tough to project more than 50 future command, and it played at 45 in this start.
Stuff-wise, the arsenal is comfortably above-average. His fastball showed as a plus pitch, sitting on two ends of a 90-94 window. At 90-91 he showed both cutting and running variants early in counts, and worked the cut effectively for most of the start to left-handed batters. He also worked a comfortable four-seamer at 94 and popped several 95’s and a 96 with a straighter version that had good life and finish to both sides of the plate. The four-seam really pops, and it induced ample swing-and-miss when he spotted it. Batters squared a couple when the command wobbled over his final two frames, but there’s a nice combination of velocity, variance of movement, and control here to set a high 60 baseline.
The change-up flashed true plus potential as well, working with excellent separation and good fade at 81-84 off his fastball plane. He showed good feel in consistently turning the pitch over, though as he lost his slot a bit later in the outing it firmed up and stayed up more consistently. The separation was enough to avoid hard contact even when he left a couple in the danger zone, and the pitch showed as a very good complimentary offering. There’s enough here to suggest a 55 present with a further half grade of projection left if the command tightens.
He went to his curve frequently in this start, working 76-78 with it and featuring it in a variety of counts and circumstances. The pitch can be slurvy with an early rolling shape out of his hand, but he gets good depth on the pitch and when he does snap it off there’s serious two-plane bite to it. He appeared most comfortable working within the strike zone, trusting it to steal strikes early and behind. The pitch doesn’t finish consistently down in the zone, and his inability to bury it cost him his one run of the outing. He also notably shortened his arm path on the pitch, getting shorter and steeper to his release point in order to get on top of it. It played as more of a 50 pitch at present, but again given the nature of his inconsistencies there’s reason for optimism in projecting it to grade out above-average down the line.
In terms of game management, he held his velocity out of the stretch, but his mechanical execution and control of the running game needs significant refinement. He worked very slowly to home, 1.4 to 1.5 on most pitches, and sacrificed a good bit of command when he did get south of that into the 1.3 range. Lancaster picked his pocket for four stolen bases in his five innings, including two thieveries of second on matching 1.38’s and two of third with both times north of 1.5.
Overall there’s a lot to like here, and I came away a bit surprised that he lasted all the way until the 15th pick last June. He’s a big-bodied, durable starter with an easy arm, the ability to control a strong arsenal, and a slow heartbeat on the mound. The command and game management both need refinement, and he did not show a true put-away secondary offering. But he also did not show any disqualifying flags to suggest a high variance in potential outcome. Newcomb’s floor should be high enough to keep him employed in a Major League rotation for a long time. His current track is that of a future 55, with a true 60 (first-division number three starter) very much in reach with appropriate refinement.
The Inland Empire roster is pretty devoid of high-end offensive talent, but first baseman Eric Aguilera shows the most promise of the bunch. A chiseled 6’2", 220 pounder out of Illinois State, he’s old for the level but shows a nice blend of athleticism and strength. Given the physicality his swing plane is flatter than it probably should be, as he lacks leverage or ample separation to really drive the ball with carry at present. He shows decent feel for contact though, and while there’s some swing and miss it doesn’t appear to be a disqualifying part of the package. I’ve clocked him at 4.22 to first on an average finish, and while I’d expect the speed to tick down a notch it plays to a borderline 50 for the time being. The team tried him in right on Saturday night with some rough results, as he misplayed a liner into a triple that accounted for the only blemish on Sean Newcomb’s line. But he’s moved well enough around the bag in my looks at him there that I can see the temptation to try him on the grass. Ultimately he’ll likely need to find a way to tap into more power to force his way onto a big league roster, but there’s some potential for a useful org piece here.
Where the offensive punch is lacking for Inland Empire there are a couple interesting glove men on the roster led by Puerto Rican shortstop Angel Rosa. Cuban import Roberto Baldqouin was supposed to be handling IE’s six spot, but after a terrible start in the box he got himself hurt, and Rosa has stepped in as a more than capable replacement. His actions in the field are extremely smooth, highlighted by very fast feet and some of the quickest hands I’ve seen at the level. He gets outstanding breaks, with a quick start-up that feeds easy plus range. The arm strength is at least a 55, and the overall defensive package projects as that of an above-average Major Leaguer. His swing is reasonably compact and direct to the ball, but there’s very little power to speak of at all and he struggles to handle anything with a wrinkle in it. I’m not sure he’ll ever hit enough to regularly force his way into a lineup, but I can see future bench/utility value here given the defensive chops.
The other half of the 66ers’ left side tandem is former first rounder Kaleb Cowart, who for all his well-documented offensive issues has done nothing but impress defensively in each look I’ve gotten. He isn’t quite as graceful physically as a typical third base prospect, but he does control his movement well enough to project average range with modest improvement to his start-up. The hands are soft and his fielding actions clean, and while there’s some choppiness to his footwork and transfer motion he can make up for the dirtier elements of his process with an arm that borders on double-plus. There’s ample velocity on his ball and he does well to harness movement for consistent accuracy from a variety of arm angles.
I’m not entirely sure how much the defensive value will end up mattering in Cowart’s case, however, because the former Georgia prep standout hasn’t shown much reason to believe in his bat. He gets routinely eaten alive by basic sequencing and hasn’t shown the ability to adjust to even fringy off-speed stuff. I can’t see any glaring mechanical holes in his swing, but he demonstrates pervasive timing issues with his load and launch that really limit his ability to find pitches with his barrel. The process lacks fluidity and generates uncomfortable-looking at-bats.