The Background: Newcomb was selected 15th overall by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the 2014 draft out of the University of Hartford. He was the first player picked from Hartford in a decade and the highest overall pick in school history, besting Jeff Bagwell by almost 100 spots. In his first short season assignment that Summer, he established a pattern of performance that has repeated at every level— overpowering stuff, but troubles keeping it in the zone. Nevertheless, he got to Double-A in 2015 during his first full professional season. That winter he was dealt to the Braves for Andrelton Simmons. He spent all of 2016 back in Double-A as he tried to iron out his control issues with limited success. His 2017 campaign in the International League has gone much the same, striking out well over a batter an inning, but also walking over 13% of the batters he’s faced.
Scouting Report: Newcomb was considering playing college football before he ended up pitching at the University of Hartford, and he certainly looks the part. He’s a big-bodied lefthander, listed at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds. Unlike most listed height/weight, that one sure looks about right. He’s right out of central casting for “durable, mid-rotation starter,” and the stuff matches that profile as well. Newcomb offers above-average fastball velocity from the left side, and he can dial it up into the upper-90s when he needs it. The pitch has some arm-side life as well and can be heavy when he spots it down in the zone. As you might have gathered from the stat line though, his command of the pitch is below-average and can make the heater play down at times. Newcomb throws a curve and a change as well. The breaking ball is the better offering, projecting as an above-average pitch with late downward bite. The change can be a bit firm, but he sells the pitch well. Whether he can consistently get ahead in counts to bring the secondaries into play is a real question though. There’s always going to be those—myself included—who think that because of his background as a cold weather arm, and a lefty to boot, there’s still a chance it really clicks for Newcomb as a starter. On the other hand he’s logged over 200 innings in the upper minors as a starter and he still struggles to repeat his delivery and throw consistent strikes. The stuff is good enough to get major league hitters out, but major league hitters are good enough to wait him out. Because of his size and background, the highside comp that you’ve always heard is Jon Lester. But in his age-24 season, Lester established himself as a 200-inning a year major league workhorse. It’s asking an awful lot of Newcomb to do the same.
Immediate Big League Future: Newcomb is up in part because the Braves need an extra arm for a doubleheader, but there is a rotation spot here with Bartolo Colon on the disabled list. Matt Wisler—the other Saturday starter—has been designated the 26th man, so there may be a medium term rotation spot for Newcomb. We are likely past the Super 2 safe harbor date, so the Braves have little to lose by giving him the rest of the season to make adjustments against major league bats. They do tend to beat up this profile—see Tyler Glasnow—so it may be a bumpy ride for Newcomb his first year in the bigs. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Fantasy Impact: Newcomb will get his first opportunity to toe the big league bump this weekend, squaring off against a Mets team that has been struggling so far this season…to put it mildly. First things first, the stuff has never been in question. Newcomb came to the Braves as a highly-touted prospect in the Andrelton Simmons deal, just oozing with potential. Huge lefties don't grow on trees, and when they touch 96 mph on the gun, well, that's even better. The problem for Newcomb has been the control. Despite the electric, swing and miss stuff, the almost 24-year-old has struggled more than a little bit to limit free passes, and has averaged nearly five walks per nine innings in 348 innings as a pro.
Between injuries and general ineffectiveness, the Braves are looking for a shot in the arm with Newcomb's promotion. While the walks are definitely worrisome, he does two things exceptionally well that make him awfully tempting as a big league fantasy option. He strikes dudes out and limits homers. In 57 2/3 Triple-A innings, Newcomb has fanned 74 batters, and has only surrendered three long balls. In fact, since 2015, he has never been above 0.5 homers per nine, a feat that would be super helpful in today's wild home run climate. The question becomes how long will this stint last? Newcomb is coming up to fill in during a doubleheader, so it's possible that this is just a spot start. However, if the Braves do decide to see what they have in the former first rounder, Newcomb makes an interesting option the rest of the way. There will be growing pains, and the WHIP may never be pristine, but if he can somehow manage to not walk everyone, he should be a great source for strikeouts. —Mark Barry
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