The Braves will promote top left-handed pitching prospect Sean Newcomb to start one of Saturday’s doubleheader games, reports Mark Bowman of MLB.com (on Twitter). Whether it’s a spot start or a potential audition for a long-term spot in the rotation — Bartolo Colon has struggled all season and was placed on the disabled list yesterday — Newcomb will be making his MLB debut this weekend. The lefty isn’t on Atlanta’s 40-man roster, though the Braves have an open spot for him.
Newcomb, 24 next week, was the Angels’ first-round pick (No. 15 overall) out of the University of Hartford back in 2014 and was traded to the Braves roughly 18 months later as the key piece in the Andrelton Simmons swap. He’s emerged as a consensus Top 100 prospect throughout the game, though his stock took somewhat of a hit with a so-so 2016 campaign in Double-A. After ranking among baseball’s top 25 or so prospects in the eyes of Baseball America and MLB.com, he entered the 2017 campaign ranked 78th and 80th on their respective lists. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked him 81st, while Baseball Prospectus remained a bit more bullish and ranked him 44th.
Through his first 57 innings with Triple-A Gwinnett this season, Newcomb has pitched to a strong 2.97 ERA with an outstanding 11.5 K/9 rate. However, he’s also averaged 5.2 walks per nine, continuing a troubling trend of control problems that has followed him throughout his professional career. Newcomb has averaged 4.8 walks per nine since being drafted, and in addition to walking 104 men through 197 2/3 frames across the past two seasons, he’s also hit eight batters and tossed nine wild pitches.
Scouting reports on Newcomb praise his considerable upside but are also wary of his control problems. Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com note that he sat 93-97 mph with his fastball last season and has at times touched 99-100 mph in the past — also praising his curveball as a plus offering and writing that his changeup is at least an average pitch. BA agreed with MLB.com’s assessment of Newcomb’s secondary offerings but pegged his fastball a couple miles per hour slower and also suggested that he needs to be more aggressive when he’s ahead in the count. Law, meanwhile, notes that Newcomb has durability but has yet to improve his command to the point where he can be considered likely to reach his ceiling as a No. 2 starter.
Control issues aside, the Braves are counting on Newcomb to serve as a long-term cog in their rotation following the departures of this offseason’s one-year stopgap acquisitions (Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia). Newcomb, along with Lucas Sims, Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Luiz Gohara, gives the Braves an enviable crop of well-regarded pitching prospects that currently sit in Double-A or higher. The hope, it seems, is that three of that bunch can slot into the rotation behind controllable right-handers Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz to give Atlanta a rotation that is both sustainable and affordable for the next several years in the newly opened Sun Trust Park.
If Newcomb is brought to the Majors for good, he’ll accrue 114 days of big league service this season, which should put him just shy of Super Two eligibility moving forward. Assuming he misses out on Super Two status, he’d be arbitration-eligible following the 2020 season and would qualify for free agency following the 2023 campaign. Of course, it’s also certainly possible that this is merely a brief promotion to get his feet wet and that the Braves won’t fully commit a Major League rotation spot to Newcomb until later this season or even 2018.