Getting To Know: Sean Newcomb: Is The Top Prospect Destined To Disappoint (Initially At Least)?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

With a Saturday double header against the Mets, the Braves will summon Sean Newcomb to make his MLB debut and start one of the games.  Acquired as part of the trade that sent Andrelton Simmons to the Angels, fans have heard about the southpaw’s talent and upside since he was selected in the first round of the 2014 draft (15th overall).  Finally we will get a chance to see what he offers, after he’s thrived at Triple-A this season (2.97 ERA, 11.55 K/9).  That doesn’t mean he’s a lock to hit the ground running, as there are some obvious questions to overcome.  Let’s take a look:

Rotoprofessor Rankings:
Preseason – Braves #6 Prospect

Throwss – Left-Handed

Age – 23 (he’ll turn 24 on June 12)

What We Said In The Preseason:
“The biggest problem with Newcomb is his control, as he posted a 4.6 BB/9 in ’16 and owns a minor league career 4.7 mark.  Sure he can strikeout out a significant number of batters (9.8 K/9 last season), but he has taken a step back against more advanced hitters and he could continue to regress with another promotion.  It’s something worth watching, though you’d expect there to be enough (though if he can’t throw strikes it won’t matter).”

Thoughts:

Numerous Walks + Elevated Line Drive Rate = Potential Disaster

It’s an easy formula, and while he may pitch well in his first start due to unfamiliarity until he figures out his issues it’s far more likely that he stumbles.

No one has ever questioned his strikeout stuff, which has obviously been on display at the highest level of the minors.  With a minor league career 10.7 K/9 and a 12.3% SwStr% in ’17, there’s little doubt that he can be a strikeout per inning pitcher in the Major Leagues.  However, that’s where the definitive statements end and the questions begin.

 

The biggest issue entering the season was his control, and he’s done nothing to silence that.  In fact his BB/9 has ballooned to 5.15 over 57.2 IP, with 2 BB or fewer in just four of his seven starts (12 BB over 15.0 IP in his past three starts).  You simply can’t put that many batters on and expect to get the job done in the Majors.

Further complicating matters is his current 27.7% line drive rate.  While that is up from year’s past (20.4% over 140.0 IP at Double-A last season), that doesn’t mean much.  His current mark represents the second highest among qualified pitchers in the International League (behind Shawn Haviland of the Red Sox, who owns a 29.2%).  Just to drive it home even more, it’s the third highest in all of Triple-A (the Cardinals’ Mike Mayers is at 30.2% in the Pacific Coast League).

Numerous Walks + Elevated Line Drive Rate = Potential Disaster

It’s an easy formula, and while he may pitch well in his first start due to unfamiliarity until he figures out his issues it’s far more likely that he stumbles.  Even if the plan isn’t for this to be a one and done, don’t be surprised if he’s returned to Triple-A before long as there are clearly issues that need to be resolved.

Current Grade – B+
Upside Grade – B+

Sources – MILB.com, Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

Make sure to check out all of our 2017 Prospect Rankings:

AL EastAL CentralAL West
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One comment

  1. Ryan G. says:

    Hi Eric,

    Quick question – where did you get the SwStr% and line drive rate? I can’t seem to find these numbers for minor league players.

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