Top prospect Sean Newcomb shows off arsenal, command in dominant debut

BY Zach Dillard • June 10, 2017

Sean Newcomb’s long-chastised location concerns arrived in the second inning of his first big-league start. The twist: The 6-foot-5 left-hander’s errant throw was directed 180 degrees away from home plate, a mental lapse on a potential double-play ball that missed Brandon Phillips’ glove and ended up in center field.

That throwing error, which led directly to New York’s lone run registered with the Atlanta Braves’ prized pitching prospect on the mound, accounted for the totality of Newcomb’s control issues in his MLB debut. Everything thrown toward the plate, on the other hand, exhibited above-average accuracy and bordered on overpowering.

“I just went out there kind of attacking like I had been down in Gwinnett, but it felt good to get through that first guy and then just keep going forward," Newcomb said after the Braves' 6-1 loss. " … After I made a couple fastballs and that curveball, after that I just kind of felt like — kind of got it over with, took a deep breath and kept going forward.”

Newcomb ended his first afternoon at SunTrust Park in the seventh inning after 96 pitches, offsetting six baserunners (one intentional) with seven strikeouts to refuse the Mets a single earned run. Only one of his two walks was unintentional. He left the game trailing 1-0 thanks to that second-inning mistake Atlanta's NL East rivals capitalized on, but for the organization’s most-anticipated debut since Dansby Swanson’s call-up last August Newcomb exceeded expectations.

And he addressed the most pressing concern regarding his sky-high ceiling — his ability to consistently throw strikes — by attacking Mets hitters from the first pitch.

“It was satisfying to watch. He was outstanding,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “On the attack and threw a lot of strikes. I don’t know, that might have been his best outing as a pro. I don’t know.

"Maybe we had him in the wrong league.”

Dating back to his days in the Angels farm system, the former first-round pick and Atlanta’s crown jewel in the Andrelton Simmons trade walked at least 11.8 percent of batters at every stop after rookie ball. At Double-A Mississippi last season, equipped with an arsenal capable of rendering minor-league bats virtually useless at times, 40 percent of Newcomb’s pitches landed outside the strike zone. That rate improved at Triple-A Gwinnett prior to his promotion, but walks (understandably) remain the core argument against the southpaw drawing nonstop Jon Lester comparisons.

In this context, Newcomb’s 73 percent strike rate against the Mets proved downright devastating — and set the stage for how good he can be moving forward when he's locked in mechanically.

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The former University of Hartford standout peppered opposing batters with 70 fastballs. He largely stayed away against right-handed batters and hovered on the edges of the zone against lefties, watching his velocity fluctuate between 91-to-94 miles per hour even as he approached the century mark with his pitch count. Nearly half of his hyped curveballs drew swinging or called strikes.

"(Mets hitters) seemed to be a little bit aggressive, some pitches on the edges they were fouling off or taking swings at,“ said Newcomb, who was the first Braves player to make his major-league debut at SunTrust Park. "I felt pretty good. Only had that one walk on a close pitch."

Newcomb left the game to a deserved standing ovation, and now the attention shifts to the Braves front office and its short-term plans for the rotation.

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Newcomb's start arrived on the front end of a doubleheader in a spot opened by struggling veteran Bartolo Colon's oblique strain. For a franchise in desperate need of improved starting pitching production, the 23-year-old should provide an immediate upgrade — serving as the first wave of Atlanta's upcoming youth movement in its new ballpark — if given the opportunity. Sending him back to Gwinnett, particularly following his impressive showing, would be a curious move for John Coppolella & Co. If Atlanta simply wanted a spot start, there were myriad options.

Instead, tabbing Newcomb as Saturday's Game 1 starter hinted at permanence.

The Braves front office can still harbor motivation to resurrect Colon's uncharacteristically horrible 2017 season, if only to recoup minimal trade value this summer, but Newcomb's "The Future Is Now" display underscored that it's likely too late to turn his rotation spot back over to an underperforming 44-year-old arm. (Snitker was noncommittal to the pending rotation decision after the game, though Newcomb is expected, at the very least, to start in six days against the Marlins before Colon's DL stint ends.)

Sean Newcomb proved he's capable of baffling a major-league offense when he's attacking the strike zone. He's earned the right to attempt to replicate that consistency for another 100-plus innings in a big-league uniform this season.



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