Sean Newcomb ‘pumped’ for fresh start with Cubs
It’s safe to say Sean Newcomb has had a weird week.
It began on Monday when he threw 1.1 innings against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
The following day, Newcomb was designated for assignment by the Atlanta Braves — an organization he has called home for the last 7 years.
On Wednesday, the Braves traded Newcomb to the Cubs for veteran reliever Jesse Chavez.
Thursday night, he arrived at Wrigley Field, was handed uniform No. 15 and watched his new team take on the Pirates on a beautiful spring evening.
Friday morning, Newcomb arrived at Wrigley to prepare for a day game … that was moved to a night game (due to inclement weather) roughly an hour after he spoke to Chicago media.
“It’s kinda crazy getting the call from the [Braves] and finding out I was heading somewhere,” Newcomb said. “I got the call from Jed [Hoyer] Wednesday night and I was pretty pumped. I didn’t really expect there to be a trade, especially coming to a great organization like this.”
Newcomb appreciates the history and appeal of a team like the Cubs that plays half its schedule at a baseball cathedral.
He is also grateful for a bunch of familiar faces and ties to players already in the Cubs clubhouse. He pitched with Drew Smyly and Chris Martin in Atlanta last season and came up through the Angels organization with current Cubs outfielder Michael Hermosillo.
Newcomb was also traded for Andrelton Simmons in November 2015 in the move that sent him from the Angels (the team that drafted him 15th overall in 2014) to Atlanta. (Simmons is currently rehabbing a shoulder injury at the Cubs complex in Arizona.)
But Newcomb is most “pumped” for the change of scenery.
“Pretty cool to get a new look and new feel for myself,” he said. “New opportunity, a new perspective from the coaching staff.”
Newcomb has 1st-round pedigree and was a former top prospect. He ranked as high as No. 21 overall by MLB.com prior to the 2016 campaign.
The southpaw found success early in his big league career, posting a 3.87 ERA in 105 games (53 starts) from 2017-19. He struggled in the rotation in the shortened 2020 campaign (11.20 ERA in 4 starts) before righting the ship a bit last season (4.73 ERA, 1.70 WHIP in 32 relief appearances).
There were a couple of enticing aspects of Newcomb’s 2021 campaign. He posted a 3.60 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) that shows he may have been a bit unlucky in the ERA department. He also struck out 43 batters in 32.1 innings and allowed only 1 home run.
The Braves were making their march toward the World Series last season and had a bullpen packed with veterans so Newcomb felt like he wasn’t able to pitch as much as he wanted to in order to be at his best.
In the first few days with the Cubs, his focus has been simple.
“For me, it’s just getting my confidence and feel back,” Newcomb said. “Pitching a lot helps with that — throwing more and more.
“The main focus is being the best version of myself.”
Newcomb says he feels as good physically as he has at any point in his career and believes the pitch data backs that up. Walks have been part of his Achilles’ heel, as he has doled out 31 free passes in 37.1 innings since the start of last season.
David Ross didn’t want to commit to what kind of role Newcomb would fill without first getting to know the southpaw. The Cubs spent the first couple weeks of the season with Daniel Norris as the only lefty in the bullpen so Newcomb’s arrival certainly provides more options for Ross.
Newcomb doesn’t turn 29 until June and is under team control for 3 more seasons, so there is the potential he emerges as a long-term piece on the Cubs pitching staff.
There is something to be said for a change of scenery and the Cubs are hoping that’s just what Newcomb needs to regain his early-career form.
“That’s not a myth. Different messaging, different energy — guys just like a fresh start, especially if you’ve had some struggles,” Ross said. “That doesn’t always translate to success but just clearing out and getting a new start with a new group and new, fresh set of eyes.”