This is the first in a series reporting on various players of note that I see in 2014. It will be mostly Mets prospects obviously, but I will be mixing in some amateur coverage as well. The format will be very similar to the "Best prospects I saw" series from last year, with the added bonus of not having to wait until the end of the season to read them.
We'll kick off the series with an intriguing draft prospect who will likely still be on the board when the Mets pick at #10.
Sean Newcomb, LHP
University of Hartford, junior
Age: (as of 2014 MLB draft) 21.0
Date(s) seen: 3/22/14 vs. Binghamton University: 8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 K
2014 so far: 32.2 IP, 14 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 15 BB, 38 K, 0 HR
The short of it: Newcomb was not raw in the way the author expected, but still was a bit raw by college arm standards. However, with a plus fastball from the left side, and the makings of a full four-pitch arsenal, he's pretty much a lock to go in the first round of the draft.
The long of it: Newcomb stands out among his teammates and opponents in the American East as a dude that just looks like a professional pitcher. He's a thick 6'5", with broad shoulders, a wide trunk, and a bit of what Jason Parks would call "Chad Billingsley ass." This is a frame built to log innings. Newcomb has played his entire amateur career in the Northeast, and you expect a bit more rawness from that type of draft prospect since they don't usually play year-round baseball, but Newcomb is more than just a raw arm strength guy. The delivery is very simple and repeatable, though he did struggle with repeating, especially early on and out of the stretch. In general out of the stretch, everything was a bit looser (not in a good way), and he didn't get the same drive or finish he did out of the wind-up. Overall though, I liked the delivery. Everything stays very quiet, and while I wouldn't call him a true "drop and drive" guy, he gets good length on his stride and some bend at the release point. These are clean and easy mechanics for a guy that can ramp his fastball up into the mid-nineties.. And that fastball is the reason there were twenty scouts sitting with me behind home plate on very uncomfortable metal bleachers. Newcomb sat 91-94, bumped 95 a few times, and touched 97. At the lower end of the velocity, Newcomb also offered a two-seamer with some good armside run. Reports from early in the season pegged the fastball command as an issue, and Newcomb did struggle with it early in this start. He is not a guy that gets much torque out of his mechanics, and if the hips fired early, the arm tended to lag behind and he missed up. This was even more of an issue out of the stretch. When the fastball is up, it is flat, and the Binghamton lineup could square his velocity. As the game went on, the fastball command improved. Newcomb was able to work down to either side of the plate and then go up the ladder for strikeouts. This is going to be something to watch in his pro career, as he will need to be able to change eye levels with the fastball. Newcomb held his fastball deep into the start and was still sitting 92-93 in the eighth, touching 95.
Newcomb showed a full four-pitch mix on Saturday. He primarily went to the curveball as his put-away pitch early. It was 75-78, and he could bury it or spot it for a strike. He has good feel for the pitch, and it was his most consistent secondary offering, but it lacks depth and tends to show itself a bit early. At this level he can punish hitters with it all day, but he'll need to tighten it up at the professional level. I actually preferred the slider, which Newcomb began to work in more as the day went on. It's a mid-eighties offering that showed classic, late, two-plane break at times. However, he doesn't have the same level of present-day feel for it as he does with the curve, and when he tried to spot it for a strike, it got sweepy. Still, I think it ends up the better pitch in the end. He could also drop it on the back foot to right-handed batters, which at this level is (A) rare to see, and (B) utterly unfair. Newcomb only showed a handful of changes. It's a firm offering right now, and he struggles to turn it over, but he maintained his armspeed well and it had some late tail to it. It's a show-me offering to right-handed bats at the moment (and one he won't need much at this level), but there's at least something to work with here.
Newcomb doesn't need much more than the fastball and curve to be successful against NCAA competition, and early on his approach was a very rudimentary "get ahead with the fastball, put away with the curve." He ran into issues when he wasn't getting ahead in counts, but one thing that impressed me about Newcomb was his poise on the mound. He was inefficient at times, and had to deal with men on base, but he just went out and made his pitches. Once the fastball command started to tighten up, he seemed to be more comfortable mixing up his approach. He started working in the slider and change more and would occasionally try to get ahead with an offspeed offering. Again, not the raw fastball/raw approach you might expect from a cold weather arm. There's also a little bit of #rig here that I liked. Newcomb was about three steps to the dugout on a pretty 0-2 curve. He didn't get the call (the strike zone was flaky all day), but he just walked back to the mound while the crowd and teammates gave the home plate umpire the business and put away the hitter a few pitches later. It also didn't seem to bother him that there were 20 scouts surrounding his bullpen session, wandering around to spy from different vantage points. He just went ahead and got his work in. It's a small thing, and Newcomb has been on radars for a couple years now, but the increased attention doesn't seem to bother him at all. And there's only going to be more as the season wears on, as this is a major-league-quality arm.
The optimistic projection: #3 starter who gives you 200+ innings a year in his prime.
The pessimistic projection: The secondaries never quite advance enough, but the fastball plays up in short bursts and Newcomb settles into a late-inning bullpen role.
Where will he go: Personally, I'd want to see a bit more fastball command, or a bit more out of the secondaries, to feel confident popping Newcomb at #10. He wouldn't be an outlandish pick for the Mets, but he's also not really the type of arm the front office has targeted in recent years. I'd grade him out as a middle-to-late first round pick. Left-handed fastballs like that simply doesn't stay on the board long, and Newcomb has more to offer than just raw velocity.