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Trade shows Braves committed to building around arms

Coppolella maintains focus on pitching with acquisition of Newcomb, Ellis

ATLANTA -- Braves general manager John Coppolella knows that his club scored the fewest runs in the Majors this past season and the second fewest in 2014. Still, over the course of the past year, he focused on using the big bats he had -- Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis -- to create what now stands as baseball's top crop of pitching prospects.

When Coppolella traded Andrelton Simmons to the Angels on Thursday, he further enhanced this crop with the additions of Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. The deal also provides a short-term fix at shortstop in the form of former All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner Erick Aybar.

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"The focus for me is to get really good talent," Coppolella said. "I'd be happy if we got arms in every deal. We're built around pitching and defense. The more arms we can get, the better off we're going to be."

With the addition of Newcomb, Atlanta gained a potential ace who now stands as its top overall prospect, per Ellis ranks ninth on the list, which is dominated by arms.

Pitchers account for 11 of the top 14 spots on the Braves' Top 30 Prospects list. Ten of these pitchers have been acquired via trade or the Draft since the conclusion of the 2014 season. Lucas Sims, an Atlanta native and 2012 first-round selection of the Braves, has been one of the most impressive pitchers in this year's Arizona Fall League.

Video: Top Prospects: Sean Newcomb, LHP, Braves

"If you want to get an ace-type guy, you better get them while they're in the Minor Leagues," Coppolella said.

While Newcomb's command has created some concern, as he has issued 4.9 walks per nine innings through his first two professional seasons, some scouts still believe he will develop into an ace. The strong left-hander possesses a fastball that sits around 95 mph. Newcomb has drawn comparisons to Jon Lester, but some talent evaluators believe he needs to show more polish before drawing this lofty comparison.

Still, it's impossible to overlook the 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings that Newcomb has produced while posting a 2.75 ERA through 33 career starts at the professional level. He might begin the 2016 season with Double-A Mississippi, but the Braves believe he could reach Atlanta at some point next year.

"I think there are a lot of things our guys liked [about Newcomb]," Coppolella said. "There are obviously areas where he could improve, but we feel he can pitch at the very top of a rotation."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for
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