The Atlanta Braves are opening Spring Training this week with high hopes that some of their talented young pitchers can take a big step forward in 2018. One of the best of the bunch is the big left-hander, Sean Newcomb. After a rookie season that showed both flashes of promise and some rough edges to polish, Newcomb reported to camp ready to cement his spot in the Atlanta rotation.
He took upon himself to raise the bar the winter. Newcomb, a Massachusetts native, spent a portion of his offseason working out at the TB12 Sports Therapy Center, the gym and treatment facility in Foxborough which was founded by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his personal trainer, Alex Guerrero. Implementing some of the aspects of the TB12 regimen along with his own workouts and an early throwing program, Newcomb arrived in Orlando last week with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and ready to prove he belongs.
Here’s my Q&A session with the young Braves left-hander:
Grant McAuley: It always seems like the winter is long until you suddenly run out of days and here we are getting set to open spring training. How was your offseason and what was your focus after completing your rookie year?
Sean Newcomb: “After my first time playing through September like that, it felt good to get home. I took a couple of weeks off and then got going and got back into my working out. Once the new year rolled around, it was time to make sure I was really ready to go. That’s kind of the end of your offseason.”
GM: You did something a little different this winter. You’re up in the New England area and a certain quarterback is doing some interesting things in both the football and the training world. Tell me about how you got hooked up with TB12 Sports and what that did for you this winter?
SN: “I live probably 15-20 minutes away from Foxborough, where the Patriots’ stadium is, so I got in there and worked a little bit with Alex Guerrero and TB12 Sports and just kind of introduced myself to that a little bit. I didn’t do the full-on program. I didn’t go there and do the whole working out every single day and the diet that they all preach about. I went in there and got treatment done three, sometimes four times a week. I also supplemented that with the Cressey performance workout that I’ve always done. It was good. It was definitely a new way to stay on top of myself. It was a good way to get some type of treatment and some kind of care for my legs, my arm and what not when I’m away from the team and don’t have the trainers around. It was definitely really helpful.”
GM: What were the main benefits of training at TB12 Sports?
SN: “It helped me recover from my workouts quicker. It helped me feel a little bit better as far as being loose and just getting my muscles just feeling good in general. It’s a good program and it obviously has shown a lot results. A lot of guys go there, so it was good to step in there and see what they do and get a feel for it.”
GM: Were you working with other big leaguers or was this more of an individual approach?
SN: “It’s kind of weird. You don’t really see people while you’re in there because it’s pretty isolated in a room. They do a lot of soft tissue work, so you have your own room with your own ‘body coach’ they call them.”
GM: Well, the winter training is one element, but you’re also coming off the longest season of your professional career and your first taste of the big leagues. When you reflect on it, what did you take from that experience and bring with you to spring training this time around?
SN: “It was awesome to look back and see how the year went. Obviously, I wish it could have gone a little better in the bigs as far as just being more consistent through all my starts, but I felt good and I felt strong at the end, so that’s a good sign. I definitely feel I could have done more as far as innings count and just pitching longer. That’s obviously the plan and what we’re all here for. It was definitely good just to look back and see what I did, build off it and look back at what I can take from it. I just want to take that going into spring. I feel a lot more comfortable this spring than I have before, just knowing all the guys, knowing how things go and where I stand as of now.”
GM: Looking at the rotation, there are a couple of veterans in Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir coming in and more than a few prospects in big league camp this year. The guys coming back, yourself, Mike Foltynewicz, Luiz Gohara and even Julio Teheran are on the young side. It’s an interesting mix all around. When you have all that talent, especially some younger arms, does that start to stoke the flames a little bit for some friendly competition?
SN: “It’s good to have competition around, especially when they’re all around the same age and you’ve got all the young guys kind of battling to show that they’re best. It’s a good feel and it keeps the competition up. The rotation is looking pretty young, but those two veterans (McCarthy and Kazmir) that got traded over here are going to come in and contribute and help us younger guys learn some stuff and see what they do in their daily routines. We can take some stuff from them, but at that same time we’re all going to be battling to be on the opening day roster.”
GM: An interesting note about a lot of these arms is just how many lefty starters are running around here in camp this year – yourself, Gohara, Max Fried, Kolby Allard. That’s a big change from years past. Scott Kazmir has had unique journey in the big leagues. Do you think having him around could be beneficial for you guys, the lefties?
SN: “I think last year, and even the year before, there weren’t anywhere near as many lefties. We were talking about that the other day, looking around at the lefties and it’s almost a 50-50 split at this point. But yeah, having Kazmir will be huge. I’d met him before in Arizona when I was with the Angels. I know that he’s a good guy. He’s one of those guys that will come up to you and help you out whenever you need it. It’s going to be good to have the veterans around.”
More reading: Check out the entire Sean Newcomb capsule from my 2018 Braves Positional Preview Series: The Rotation.
A big lefty with an excellent fastball-curveball combination, Sean Newcomb arrived in Atlanta by midsummer and entrenched himself into the big league rotation. Originally a first round draft pick by the Angels in 2014, strikeouts and walks have been his calling card thus far and Newcomb gets more than his fair share of both. The major return from Los Angeles in exchange for slick-fielding shortstop Andrelton Simmons in 2015, Newcomb’s future will dictate whether that was a trade worth making. There were some ups and downs during his rookie season, but Newcomb has shown enough promise to merit a spot in the Braves starting five in 2018. What he does with that opportunity remains to be seen. Given the stats he put up in 19 starts last year, the numbers are open to interpretation.
For Newcomb, a 6-foot-5 lefty with a power arm, bases on balls are the main area he must improve, but his strikeout stuff in tantalizing. His 9.72 strikeouts per nine innings pitched ranked 10th best in the NL among starters with at least 100 IP. On the flip side, Newcomb’s 5.13 walks per nine innings was the worst rate among that same group. That’s been a trend for Newcomb in the minors, but he has routinely been tough to hit and that has taken the edge off the walks. That said, Newcomb somewhat predictably incurred more damage when facing big league lineups, which was to be expected. His hit-rate jumped from 7.0 hits per nine innings in his minor league career to 9.0 H/9 in the majors. Newcomb’s sparkling home run rate also nearly doubled, from 0.4 home runs per nine innings in the minors to 0.9 HR/9 with the big league club. That’s not altogether surprising considering the historic rate at which balls were leaving the park in 2017. The home runs are manageable, but dealing with nearly 14 base runners per nine innings is not a recipe for success.