Coveted left-handed pitching prospect Sean Newcomb is set to make his big league debut this Saturday. It is a major step towards the new look Atlanta Braves.
While the Braves have made a bevy of moves the past few seasons for young pitching, Newcomb is the first of an elite class of Braves pitching prospects. Matt Wisler and Mike Foltynewicz have entered (and left) the rotation, but they never had the ceiling that Newcomb had.
Newcomb was selected 15th overall in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft. Nothing has changed since that draft. The 6-foot-5, 255 pound lefty came to the pros with filthy stuff after a stellar junior season at Hartford. He went out with a bang, going 8-2 with a 1.25 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 93.1 innings.
The southpaw has climbed the ladder steadily, perhaps most impressive in a 13-start California League stop, were he went 6-1 with a 2.47 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 65.2 innings. He was dealt to the Braves at the end of the 2015 season as part of the Andrelton Simmons deal.
That’s a lot of pressure for Newcomb. Simmons — known by Simba by the Braves fanbase — was a beloved piece of the Braves infield. While he played a different position, Newcomb still had big shoes to fill, to show he was worth the move.
Newcomb is a power pitcher. He used to hit 100 on the radar gun a lot more frequently, but reports are that he has toned down on that since learning how to pitch better than he throws. His curveball is a strikeout pitch, and paired with the fastball it causes a lot of misses on swings. His changeup has finally caught up and is ready for big league action.
The soon-to-be 24-year-old has also had the same problem since college. Control. It has continued to haunt him, and likely will as he adjusts to big league hitters.
Newcomb was much better at the end of last season in limiting walks, but they were still high. He has never issued less than 4.52 walks-per-nine in any season that he has thrown over 30 innings. This season at Gwinnett, he was 3-3 with a 2.97 ERA. Again, he gets out of self-induced trouble with his arsenal, striking out 74 batters in 57.2 innings, stranding 75 percent of his base runners. He has walked 5.15 batters-per-nine innings over that same span, and a 1.35 WHIP is definitely more telling than the low ERA.
Certainly one of the positives at Gwinnett is that he is posting a 32.8 percent fly ball rate, his lowest mark in three stops. SunTrust Park seems to give the edge to the hitters, so while Newcomb may put some people on the bases, it seems like he will hopefully not be penalized by frequent long balls.
Newcomb and his command issues have been conversation amongst Braves prospect circles since they day they acquired him. When making a guest appearance on The Road to Atlanta with the guys from Talking Chop and the Braves Twitterverse, I posed the question on whether or not there was something more to it. How could someone with such highly-regarded stuff struggle so much with command?
While he did have some mechanical issues with his lower body when he came to the Braves, the general consensus is that its mental. When focused, Newcomb is second to none, but he sometimes loses his focus. That’s when it gets him in trouble.
Newcomb has pitched 27.1 innings over his last five starts. He was walked 18 over that span, a 5.97 per nine rate. He walked less than three batters just once over that outing.
Lucas Sims was off to one of the best starts of his career and seemed like he was on path to be the next pitcher to get the call. A tough second half of May, plus Newcomb’s prospect stock, changed that.
Braves fans should certainly be excited for Saturday’s debut, but do so with tempered expectations. Should Newcomb struggle out of the gates, it won’t be the end of the world.