Inbox: Can Newcomb regain his touch?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers fans' questions

April 15th, 2019

With Newcomb being sent down, do you think the Braves will move on from him and make him available via trade?
-- @jackburke36

Absolutely not. Even if he were to be passed by many of the club's rising prospects and it was clear that there was no future room for him in Atlanta’s rotation, the organization needs to do whatever possible to restore the trade value that has plummeted since he was once deemed worthy enough to gain in exchange for Andrelton Simmons.

Here’s the problem: Sean Newcomb has three pitches, but as batters have continued to ignore pitches outside the strike zone, he has struggled to find that one go-to pitch that can help him get out of trouble. He has plus potential with the fastball and curveball. But the inability to consistently command either has been routinely problematic.

Dating back to the start of 2018:

Four-seam fastball: 64.7 strike percentage (55th of 74 pitches, min. 100 FB); 18.8 called strike pct. (49th of 74); 21.4 whiff percentage (31th of 65 pitchers, min. 500 swings vs. FB); .233 batting average against (23rd of 77 pitchers, min. 200 PA ending w/ a FB); .377 slugging percentage against (19th of 77)

Curveball: 45.0 strike pct (Worst among 68 pitchers, min. 300 CB) 16.0 called strike pct. (53rd of 68); 28.6 whiff pct. (60th of 83, min. 100 swings); 8.2 whiff pct. vs. all CB (62 of 68, min. 300 CB) .147 BA (13th of 68) .187 SLG (4th of 68)

Changeup: 62.3 strike pct. (35th of 56 pitchers, min. 400 CH); 9.8 called strike pct. (30th of 56); 14.4 whiff pct. (38th of 56); .278 BA (54th of 56) .424 SLG (45th of 56).

As Newcomb warmed up before Saturday’s start against the Mets, he bounced a couple of balls while playing catch with catcher Alex Jackson from a distance of less than 80 feet. He needs to focus on fastball command and possibly develop the slider that could replace, or possibly provide complementary value, to the curveball. The changeup is fine in that it provides a fastball look coming out of his hand. But first and foremost, the lefty needs to take advantage of the chance to regain confidence and find that one pitch or that one area that he can comfortably attack when he returns to the big league level.

Is it time to consider trading Ender Inciarte and let Johan Camargo play?
-- @bigwebels

When you think “absolutely” to a question like this, you take a step back and evaluate all of the consequences. For one, what would having Camargo in the lineup on an everyday basis do the bench? Well, Charlie Culberson is quite capable of making sure each of the infielders gets necessary rest and the Minor League system includes plenty of versatile utility options like Pedro Florimon and Andres Blanco.

Inciarte may continue to be one of the game’s best defensive outfielders during his age-28 season. Nobody knows exactly when he’ll be affected by inevitable defensive decline. But we do know that Ronald Acuna Jr. is more than capable of handling center field and the lineup is deeper and more formidable with Camargo’s presence.

Drew Waters needs another full season at the Minor League level, but Cristian Pache might be deemed MLB ready sooner than expected. Still, even while holding true to the thought that neither may be an option until next year, the Braves have enough depth in the form of Matt Joyce and Adam Duvall to attempt to address pitching needs by dealing Inciarte while his value is high and before defensive decline makes his future costs ($7 million in 2020, $8 million in 2021 and a $9 million team option in 2022) seem too expensive.

Do the Braves want to establish a set fifth starter or will they be alternating guys all year?
-- @GMoneyball101

With the possibility that Max Fried will make a pair of starts within the next six days, it’s timely to once again point out he has never thrown more than 118 2/3 innings in a season and that occurred way back in 2013. That doesn’t mean you don’t stick with the hot hand during the early part of this season. But to give him a chance to be strong and available down the stretch, they’ll have to stick with the plan of having him, Mike Soroka, Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint share rotation spots on an alternating basis.

Wright completed 144 innings as he experienced his first full pro season last year and Soroka could benefit from the chance to spend some time with Triple-A Gwinnett, reacquainting himself with the routine he didn’t experience while battling right shoulder issues most of last year.

These young hurlers might not simply fill the fifth spot, per se. But you can expect to see them all being shuttled between Atlanta and Gwinnett's rosters during the first few months of this season. Then at some point during the second half, you could see a couple of them entrench themselves within the rotation.

You may have worn this out already, but why don't the Braves get Craig Kimbrel?
-- @mrain111

Nothing has changed since Spring Training, when the Braves were willing to discuss a one- or two-year deal and Kimbrel remained steadfast in securing three years or more. But to put a new spin on it, let’s say Kimbrel would be willing to accept a two-year deal worth a little more than $30 million. If you’re making that kind of investment, you’re going to take time to properly prepare that asset by likely sending him to your extended spring training facility for a few weeks.

If that were to happen, he wouldn’t be available to the Major League team before the first week of May. So, we’re getting close to the point where teams have to question whether it’s worth losing a Draft pick and slot money by choosing to sign him before the MLB Draft is held June 3-5. My guess is that he’ll remain unsigned until the Draft is completed.