During the Atlanta Braves doubleheader with the New York Mets this Saturday, young left-hander Sean Newcomb will make his Major League start, a development that will supply Atlanta fans with their first look at one of the young arms the club hopes will soon headline their return to prominence.
The Braves acquired Newcomb from the Los Angeles Angels as the headliner of a November 2015 trade that sent shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the West Coast, and while Simmons is a strong two-way player, the trade was immediately criticized in California. Just 17 months earlier the Angels had made the 23-year-old the 15th overall pick in the ’14 draft, and during the ’15 campaign, the Massachusetts native was absolutely brilliant, pitching for three different Angels affiliates. In 27 starts he posted a 2.38 ERA and held opponents to a sub .200 batting average against while punching out a ridiculous 168 hitters in 136 frames. Newcomb’s performance with the AAA Gwinnett Braves this year essentially forced the club’s hand regarding a promotion, as he’s delivered a 2.97 ERA in 57.2 innings while accumulating a career-best 11.5 K/9 ratio, and it should come as no surprise the club chose to bring him up the very week that the super two cutoff is universally accepted as having passed.
When Major League baseball, as a whole, watched the New York Mets sweep the high-powered Chicago Cubs in the 2015 NLCS it was one of the rare moments where the entire industry took a step back and reevaluated their individual organizations’ objectives. The Cubs, who were the league’s undisputed best team that season, possessed a line-up with multiple all-stars, and were unanimous favorites entering the best of seven series. Behind their four young starting pitchers, however, New York made easy work of Chicago, getting dominant performances from Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz. The rest of baseball took notice, particularly the NL East, as assembling multiple highly touted, young, cost-effective starting pitchers went from an unrealistic fantasy to a get rich quick prophecy.
The Philadelphia Phillies were already in the midst of a similar strategy in their own rebuild, as having already drafted Aaron Nola in the first round of the 2014 draft, the team acquired fellow righty Jerad Eickhoff as the front man of their July 2015 blockbuster trade that sent ace Cole Hamels to Texas. Hoping to add a third young starter with high upside Philadelphia traded for Vince Velasquez prior to last season, and while the Phillies’ trio has had intermittent success in the big leagues, none of them currently boasts an ERA lower than 4.28 and they’ve fallen well short of what the Mets were able to assemble; which isn’t exactly an insult as many insiders believe New York fell into once in a generation luck. The Braves disagree.
While the Newcomb promotion is exciting in its own right, it’s especially exhilarating for Atlanta’s fans and organization for what it represents. The Braves farm system is overflowing with pitching talent, as in addition to Newcomb, the club has six other former first round picks working their way through the team’s minor league system, and the front office is absolutely intoxicated dreaming of future starting rotations two years from now and beyond. Let’s take a look at some of the hurlers that will soon call Sun Trust Park home.
- Kolby Allard LHP (Drafted by ATL Round One (14) 2015)
Allard is believed to be arguably the best of what should be a very impressive bunch. This year, in his first full season above A ball, the southpaw has been tremendous. In 12 starts for the AA Mississippi Braves, the 19-year-old has turned in a 2.87 ERA in 62.2 innings. While he’ll surely have some sort of innings limit later this summer, the Braves are absolutely thrilled with his steady progression.
- Ian Anderson RHP (Drafted by ATL Round 1 (3) 2016)
The 3rd overall pick in last year’s draft signed quickly and was able to make 10 rookie ball starts last summer, in which he was simply dominant, delivering a 2.04 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP in 39.2 innings. This year, his first full season experience hasn’t been quite as enjoyable, as he’s pitched to a 4.65 ERA in 50.1 frames. Atlanta isn’t the least bit worried, however, as they love his repertoire and believe with unflappable confidence that the 19-year-old will develop into a frontline big league starter.
- Mike Soroka RHP (Drafted by ATL Round 1 (28) 2015)
A teammate of Allard’s with the Mississippi Braves this season, the right-hander has teamed with his left-handed counterpart to form quite the 1-2 combination. In 11 starts, Soroka is currently 7-3 with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP, and he’s held the opposition to just a .209 batting average in addition t striking out a hair fewer than a batter/inning.
- Max Fried LHP (Drafted by SD Round 1 (7) 2012)
Fried was acquired in the Braves’ December/2014 trade that sent all-star outfielder Justin Upton to the Padres, and unfortunately for him, his career trajectory has not gone as swimmingly as some of the others on this list. Fried missed all of the 2015 season due to Tommy John Surgery. While he pitched well for the Rome Braves last season, AA has not been kind to him this year, as he’s compiled an ugly 5.49 ERA and a dastardly 1.43 WHIP in 62.1 innings.
- Lucas Sims RHP (Drafted by ATL Round 1 (21) 2012)
A late bloomer, Sims came out firing in his first seven starts this season, pitching to a 2.16 ERA with 42 strikeouts and only nine walks in 41.2 innings, but he’s been roughed up in his past few outings, otherwise it may very well have been him rather than Newcomb to reach the big leagues first.
- Luiz Gahara LHP (International Signee of SEA 2012)
Atlanta was able to acquire Gahara in a trade with the Mariners this past January, in a move that added additional front line pitching to an already overstocked minor league system. Just 20 years old, the Brazilian-born southpaw has been strong in his first campaign as a member of the Braves’ organization, pitching to a 2.32 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 42.2 innings.
- Joey Wentz LHP (Drafted by ATL Compensation pick (40) 2016
Taken with the compensation pick the Braves earned in a transaction with Miami, Wentz represented a major get for Atlanta, as the southpaw was considered an easy first rounder by many organizations. In 10 starts this season he’s pitched well for Rome, accumulating a 3.22 ERA in 44.2 frames.
The 2017 MLB amateur draft commences on Monday night. With the 5th overall selection, it would not be a surprise whatsoever if Atlanta again selected a highly touted arm (think lefty MacKenzie Gore or righties Hunter Greene or J.B. Bukauskas), as management has made no secret of their long-term strategy. We are talking years down the line before all of the aforementioned talent funnels its way to the Major Leagues, but when it does Atlanta could find themselves in a very similar position to that of the 2015 New York Mets. Until then, Braves fans, do what your ownership and front office personnel will be doing on Saturday night — watch Sean Newcomb pitch and allow yourself to dream.
Justin Mears, Baseline Times MLB Contributor