Newcomb Shines in Debut, What’s Next for Braves Rookie?

The Atlanta Braves turned to a young gun to help fill a gap in their starting rotation. Highly-touted left-hander Sean Newcomb took the ball in Game 1 of Saturday’s double header against the New York Mets and made his much anticipated major league debut.

The results did not disappoint.

Newcomb turned in a strong line: 6 1/3 innings pitched, 4 hits , 1 run, 0 earned runs, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts  (96 pitches/70 strikes).

He opened his career in fine fashion, using his breaking ball to great effect to notch his first strikeout in short order.

Newcomb, who turns 24 years old on Monday, became the first Braves player to make his major league debut at SunTrust Park and continued the success that he’s enjoyed at the Triple-A level so far this season. Fan expectation ranged from pure euphoria to cautiously optimistic, but there weren’t too many complaints to be had with the southpaw’s outing. He pounded the strike zone to great results, issuing just one unintentional walk. Outside of a throwing error that led to an unearned run in the second inning, Newcomb enjoyed just about everything about his first day on the job at SunTrust Park.

A big, projectable lefty with electric stuff, Newcomb has carved up minor league batters for a career mark of 10.7 K/9, but that comes with a hefty 4.8 BB/9. On the plus side, opponents have managed to hit just .215 with only 14 home runs against Newcomb in 348 innings over his 71 career starts.

And he entered his major league debut on a serious roll. One that dated back to last season.

Coming into the season, Newcomb ranked No. 4 on my Top 30 Braves Prospects for 2017. The ability to pile up strikeouts is his calling card and his arsenal includes a mid-90s fastball to go along with a dynamic curveball that generates plenty of swings and misses.

Take a look at that hook.

In his 11 starts in the International League, Newcomb picked up where he left off in Double-A during the second half of 2016. He is 3-3 with a 2.97 ERA with 33BB and 74K in 57.2 IP –  good for a career-best 11.5 K/9, but a career-high 5.2 BB/9. He’s done all of that while allowing just three homers and limiting opponents to a .215 batting average. It’s front of the rotation stuff with room to grow and a few rough edges to smooth out.

Here’s the complete scouting report from my aforementioned Top 30 Braves Prospects List:

As the big return for shipping the popular Andrelton Simmons to Los Angeles, Sean Newcomb has faced high expectations since the day he joined the Atlanta system. The big left-hander has front of the rotation stuff, but refining his command is the big hurdle. The Angels took Newcomb with the 15th overall selection in the 2014 draft out of the University of Hartford in Connecticut. At 6’5” and 255 lbs., Newcomb has drawn comparison to Cubs ace Jon Lester throughout his minor league career. A glance at the size, stuff and throwing motion confirm that observation. After just one full season in the Los Angeles system and a trip the Futures Game in 2015, Newcomb switched organizations. He finished his first season with the Braves with an 8-7 record to go along with a 3.86 ERA and led the Southern League (and all Double-A pitchers) with 152 strikeouts, a total that tied him for second in the organization. Newcomb’s fastball is typically in the low-mid 90s, but he can easily push it to 97 mph, with reports he has touched triple digits over the past two seasons. His curveball is a plus pitch and generates plenty of swings and misses. The changeup is adequate and provides the necessary variety to be a useful third pitch.

The organization was encouraged with the way Newcomb finished his 2016 campaign with Mississippi, where he posted a 2.70 ERA with 23BB/69K and a .497 opponents’ OPS in 56.2 IP over his final 10 starts. When the Braves traded for Newcomb, he was at the forefront of the rebuilding effort and the first of many top arms added to the system. Now 23, he is the oldest of Atlanta’s top pitching prospects, but is still a work in progress in some respects. That’s not to say he is old by any stretch of the imagination. Though he will get a cursory look this spring as the Braves evaluate all their in-house rotation options for 2017, Newcomb appears bound for Gwinnett to open the season. If he picks up where he left off in 2016, he could be pitching in Atlanta before the summer is over.

With the double header coinciding with an injury to the struggling Bartolo Colon, the Braves will get their first look at an arm they hope will be a big part of their rotation in the future. Now with one stellar start under his belt, the club will have to decide if  this is a temporary promotion for Newcomb or if he’ll be given the opportunity to stick around and pitch his way into its plans for the remainder of the season. It’s worth noting that he was added to the 25-man roster, while Matt Wisler was utilized as Atlanta’s 26th man for the twin bill. That seems to be an indication that Newcomb is in line for an encore after a successful debut.

If he lives up to the scouting report, Newcomb will miss plenty of bats, but will also issue his fair share of free passes. His ability to strike a balance between those categories will be the key to his success, both immediate and long term. He did just that on Saturday, his first step into a larger world.

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. Follow Grant on Twitter.

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