He’s Sean Newcomb, rookie, not Don Newcombe in his prime. Bear that in mind when he starts against the Mets on Saturday. But also know this:
Of all the young arms the Braves have acquired via trade, Newcomb ranks among the top four — alongside Mike Foltynewicz, Touki Toussaint and Luiz Gohara — in potential. (Those pitchers the Braves have drafted the past two seasons belong on a different shelf.)
Newcomb was himself a Round 1 pick, the 14th overall, in 2014. The Angels sent him here in exchange for Andrelton Simmons, the great defender who’s having his best season as a hitter. (That’s not to say Simmons has become a great hitter — he’s about league-average now — but the chief reason the Braves parted with him was that they feared he’d never hit at all.)
Of the zillion trades John Coppolella has made, that was the toughest sell among his constituency. Even people within this front office had reservations. The Braves don’t need Newcomb to throw a no-hitter in Game 1 to validate their rebuild, but they wouldn’t have traded Simmons for a middling arm. They had to have a prime one. Newcomb qualifies.
Whether he’s actually primed for his big-league debut is open to question. He’ll turn 24 on Monday. He had a full season in Double-A last year and began to throw more strikes. His walk rate in seven Double-A starts as Angels property was 6.0 per nine innings, which was way too high. He cut that to 4.6 in Mississippi, but it rose again — to 5.2 — at Gwinnett. Still too high. That said …
His strikeout rate in Triple-A was 11.5 over nine innings, which is why the Braves wanted him in the first place. He throws really hard. He’s big — 6-foot-5, 255 pounds — and has big-time stuff. (Serious curve,OK change-up.) He’s left-handed, which is always nice. If he can command his pitches, he has upper-half-of-the-rotation promise.
At this point, the Braves’ big-league rotation is open to all comers. Jaime Garcia has been the best of the five, which makes him most apt to be traded. (The hope that Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey would be bait for some contender hasn’t materialized.) Julio Teheran’s walk rate is the highest it has been since he became an established major-leaguer; his strikeout rate is the lowest. His WHIP last season was 1.053; this year it’s 1.515. His case for being indispensable is fraying.
The Braves have hitched their organizational wagon to young pitching, and they could really stand to see a young pitcher find a place in this rotation. It might be too soon for Newcomb to stake a lasting claim — Matt Wisler couldn’t; Aaron Blair couldn’t — but Newcomb is a bigger prospect than those two. It will intriguing to see what he can do.
Further reading: It’s about time for the Braves to trust their process.