When the Atlanta Braves began their overhaul, they were left void of a top-tier pitching prospect on the upper levels, one seemingly on the cusp of major league greatness. They addressed that issue this past offseason, sending fan favorite — and arguably the best defensive shortstop in the game — Andrelton Simmons to the west coast for Sean Newcomb, the Angels promising left-hander who was regarded as one of the best in the game.
His first year in the Braves organization has not looked that way.
Newcomb put himself into early first-round consideration after a promising career at Hartford. His final season in 2014 saw him go 8-2 with a 1.25 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 93.1 innings. It paid huge dividends for the lefty, as he was selected 15th overall by the Los Angeles Angels in the first round of the 2014 MLB draft.
He had the projectable frame that scouts can’t stay away from, standing at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. Simply put, Newcomb is huge both in presence and arm strength. Your typical power pitcher, Newcomb headed to professional ball poised to make his presence felt.
After a 14.2-inning half-season campaign, Newcomb played himself through three levels during his sophomore season. He dominated Low-A in the Midwest League, posting a 1.83 ERA over seven starts and striking out 45 over 34.1 innings. His next stop in the California League saw similar results as he went 6-1 behind a 2.47 ERA, striking out 84 over 65.2 innings, before heading to Double-A. Once with the Arkansas Travelers at his highest level of his career, Newcomb’s biggest negative really came to surface.
Newcomb has always had a high walk rate. In fact, he has never posted below a 3.00 walks-per-nine mark at any level he stopped at during his accelerated tear through the minors. He posted a 39-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his seven-start Double-A debut. That’s six walks per nine innings, and while he posted an ERA of 2.75, his FIP was at 3.94. Had he not held opponents to a .199 batting average while stranding 79.2 percent of his runners, things could have gotten worse.
At the end of the 2015 season, the aforementioned Braves-Angels trade went down and Newcomb headed east. His command issues have caught up to him in Mississippi, and he has been struggling in his Braves debut.
Newcomb currently sits at 5-7 heading into his next start (scheduled for Saturday). The command issues have caught up to the 23-year old, as he is sporting a 4.57 ERA (with an also-high, but lower, 3.64 FIP). The problem now is that his opponents are hitting .244 against him — with an unlucky .315 BABIP against as well — and where he was able to eliminate the threat of baserunners last season, he is paying for it this year.
The big lefty is also striking out fewer batters, sitting down 101 in 100.1 innings. Some of this may be from a drop in velocity — as reported by Talking Chop on July 15 — in his signature fastball. As they point out, this is not likely from fatigue, but in an attempt to grasp his control, but it has clearly made him more hittable of late.
Newcomb is simply too good everywhere else in his game to not find the cure for his command issues. His fastball, which normally is a mid-90s offering that tops out at 99, is simply overpowering when his game is on point. He can land his curveball for strikes — again, command and control permitting — and it is a major league-ready pitch. His changeup is the most behind of his secondary offerings, but when he is firing his fastball at high velocity, it becomes more a much more dangerous — and effective — off-speed offering.
There is so much more to Newcomb’s game that is good to outweigh the bad. Should Braves fans be concerned? Yes, but give up? No way. To find out more about their young ace in waiting, head on over to Today’s Knuckleball for my full article by clicking on the link below: