The Braves have designated left-hander Sean Newcomb for assignment, per a club announcement. They’ve also optioned righty Huascar Ynoa to Triple-A Gwinnett and recalled right-hander Touki Toussaint and lefty Dylan Lee in place of Newcomb and Ynoa. Additionally, the Braves announced that Ronald Acuna Jr. is headed out on a minor league rehab assignment.
Newcomb’s DFA comes on the heels of a three-year downturn that have seen the starter-turned-setup-man’s effectiveness dwindle considerably. The No. 15 overall pick by the Angels back in 2014, Newcomb headlined the Braves’ return in the trade that sent Andrelton Simmons to Anaheim. After a solid rookie showing in 2017, he looked to have broken out in 2018 when he made 30 starts and pitched to a 3.90 ERA over the life of 164 innings. Newcomb’s 23% strikeout rate was solid, but his 11.6% walk rate marked a continuation of ongoing command troubles that had plagued him dating back to his minor league days.
Despite a decent start to the 2019 season, Newcomb was optioned to Gwinnett in mid-April and returned as a reliever in early May. The new role seemed to suit him just fine, as he pitched to a 2.89 ERA with improved strikeout and walk rates (25.5% and 8.9%, respectively) in 56 innings the rest of the way. Averaging just shy of 95 mph on his heater and putting the ball on the ground on more than half of the batted balls against him, Newcomb looked the part of a quality late-inning option.
That hasn’t proven to be the case, however. Dating back to 2020, Newcomb has a 6.71 ERA in 51 big league innings and has spent some time shuttling between Gwinnett and the big leagues. He’s walked more than 15% of his opponents since Opening Day 2020, plunked another five batters and thrown seven wild pitches. Newcomb is out of minor league options, and with him yielding four runs on seven hits and four walks through just five innings (26 batters faced) to begin the season, the Braves made the choice to cut bait.
Newcomb is earning $900K this season after avoiding arbitration this past offseason. He’s still owed about $842K of that sum for the remainder of the season, and any team that claims him or acquires him via trade would be on the hook for the remainder of that sum. If a new team is able to help Newcomb right the ship, however, he’d be controllable through the 2024 season via arbitration. Given that his salary is only $200K north of the new league minimum, it’s certainly possible that another club will look to help get the once-successful southpaw back on track. The Braves will have a week to trade Newcomb, attempt to pass him through waivers or release him. If he’s released, the new signing team would only owe him the prorated league minimum for any time spent on the big league roster.
As for Ynoa, he’ll remain on the 40-man roster and hope to work toward another big league shot after an awful start to the season. The former Twins prospect, acquired in the deal that briefly sent Jaime Garcia to Minnesota, had a short breakout last year when he pitched to a 3.09 ERA over an eight-start stretch that spanned 43 2/3 frames. Ynoa, however, suffered a broken hand when he punched the bench following a poor start and spent two months on the injured list. When he returned, he posted a 5.05 ERA in 46 1/3 frames, and those struggles have not only continued but escalated in 2022. So far this year, he’s made two starts, both shorter than four innings, and yielded five earned runs in each.
The news on Acuna is a welcome sight for Braves fans, as it signifies that — barring any setbacks in his rehab from last year’s ACL tear — he’ll be back with the big league club within a month’s time. Minor league rehab windows are capped at 30 days, so Acuna will be back by mid-May, health-permitting.