LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Sean Newcomb came to his first big league Spring Training this past year, he had to deal with the pressure that accompanied being both an elite prospect and the targeted return in the trade that sent Atlanta's beloved shortstop Andrelton Simmons to Anaheim just
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Sean Newcomb came to his first big league Spring Training this past year, he had to deal with the pressure that accompanied being both an elite prospect and the targeted return in the trade that sent Atlanta's beloved shortstop Andrelton Simmons to Anaheim just a few months earlier.
Understandably nervous and somewhat wide-eyed, Newcomb struggled in camp, and then he saw his inconsistent command continue to plague him through the first half of 2016 with Double-A Mississippi. But a strong finish has helped the 23-year-old southpaw look a little more relaxed since he returned to Braves' Spring Training this past week.
"Just from what I've seen, he's more at ease and more confident in the whole thing," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I've always said, when you trade for those guys, it takes them a while to become a part. The guys have really, really liked him. He's going about his business in a very professional manner, and I love his arm."
• Spring:Tickets | Ballpark | 40-man roster | NRIs
When he was acquired from the Angels, Newcomb ranked as MLBPipeline.com's No. 21 overall prospect. After posting a 3.86 ERA and 4.6 walks per nine innings over 27 starts for Mississippi, he slipped to No. 80.
Blessed with a 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame and a lively left arm, Newcomb still has the potential to live up to the hype that surrounded him during the early portion of his career. But in order to do so -- and more importantly, make that jump to the big league level -- he knows he must throw strikes more consistently than he has over the past couple seasons.
"I understand it," Newcomb said. "There are times where I come out of a game knowing I should have issued fewer walks, or that my misses were too big or whatever, because it wasn't what I wanted. I know people are obviously going to talk about it. I just try to take something out of it. I don't let it bother me. Honestly, I like it when people see what I'm doing wrong, because it gives me the incentive to work on it."
Aided by a midseason visit from Chuck Hernandez, who made the leap from Minor League pitching coordinator to Atlanta's pitching coach in October, Newcomb showed some improvement as he posted a 2.26 ERA and issued a more acceptable 3.7 walks per nine innings over his final nine regular-season starts.
Newcomb will likely begin the 2017 season with Triple-A Gwinnett, but if he makes the necessary progress and shows he is big league ready, there is a chance the Braves will create a spot for him within their rotation at some point this year.
"Having that strong stretch at the end of the season definitely helped me coming into the offseason," Newcomb said. "Coming into this year, I know I've just got to do what I can do. I feel really good right now as far as all of the control and command. I feel better than I ever have. We'll see how this year goes, and hopefully I can get up there as quick as I can."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.