• Exclusives

    When Dealing with Prospects, Patience is Key

    By Bud L. Ellis


    ATLANTA — Once upon a time, back in the days of superstations and games of the week and The Sporting News and Sunday morning newspapers, minor-league coverage was not easy to find and it certainly was not at our fingertips.

    If your favorite team had a hot prospect, you relied on magazines and notes columns and the passing mention from your TV or radio broadcasters to get information. There was no MILB.tv. There were not blogs dedicated to the ups-and-downs teenagers and kids in their early 20s navigated on a nightly basis in poorly lit stadiums far from home. If you did not live within driving distance of a minor-league stadium, you likely never saw highlights of a prospect until he made his big-league debut.

    Which brings us to Thursday night, inside the newest baseball stadium in the major leagues – SunTrust Park where, as an aside, raindrops are just as common as homers and strikeouts. The Atlanta Braves’ jewel of a home hosted the series finale between the rebuilding Braves and the juggernaut Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that looks as imposing as any team to take a diamond since the 98 Yankees and 84 Tigers.

    Braves' rookie LHP Sean Newcomb

    Braves’ rookie LHP Sean Newcomb struck out 7 and walked 7 through 4.2 IP at SunTrust Park Thursday night.

    Climbing the bump on this night for Atlanta was one of the key components of the massive restructuring of its organization. Left-hander Sean Newcomb, he with the golden left arm and impressive raw stuff and questionable control, toed the rubber for the Braves against a Los Angeles team that began the night 43 games above .500 and cruising toward October.

    And this night would end with Newcomb putting together a line that is hard to build at any level. When you strike out seven hitters, you typically pitch deeper than five innings. When you walk seven hitters, you typically are showered and changed by the fifth inning. Yet the 24-year-old hurler found himself leaving the game after 4 2/3 frames, holding one of baseball’s best offenses to just four hits with an arsenal that at the surface can be best describe as electric, but the walks coming back to bite him in allowing three runs.

    Newcomb exited his 10th major-league start with a 4.61 ERA and a 1-6 record, not necessarily the type of numbers that spark dreams of October glory. But an important caveat to remind ourselves of as the Braves begin promoting more and more of the kids the organization feels will lift Atlanta back to postseason prominence and eventually will bring championships to its suburban palace:

    Be patient.

    Newcomb is an interesting case study in prospect expectations, in the current culture of information overload and results needing to be delivered yesterday. Somehow – and I think this goes far beyond baseball and transcends our society on multiple levels – we come to expect greatness out of the gate. We see the video clips, we read the musings of those who watch prospects, and we think those players are pre-ordained to dominate immediately upon descending to the highest level of baseball in the world.

    Fact of the matter is that just does not happen very often. For every kid who starts a season in Single-A and ends same season hitting two homers in his first World Series games (Andruw Jones, as a 19-year-old in 1996), there are tons of 19-year-olds who start a season in Single-A and end same season in Single-A.

    Greg Maddux posted a 5.59 ERA through his first two Major League seasons.

    Hall of Fame RHP Greg Maddux posted a 5.59 ERA through his first two Major League seasons.

    Back to Newcomb. He was acquired at a high cost: defensive wizard and fan favorite Andrelton Simmons, who has discovered the hit tool this season to the point where a national baseball show tonight is debating whether he is worthy of AL MVP honors. Twitter and other social media outlets are all aflutter at second-guessing the Braves for dealing Simmons for a prospect of Newcomb’s ilk. Of course, hindsight is 20-20.

    Watching Newcomb live tonight reinforces two points. One, his raw stuff is plus-plus, and he has the potential to be a frontline starter for the next decade. The Jon Lester comps are right on point. Two, he needs work. He needs to continue honing his control. He needs experience at the major-league level.

    The difference is two decades ago, there was a more patient, more forgiving populace willing to invest the time in the development that needs to happen at the major-league level. But in today’s world of instant access/gratification/analysis, a kid who puts up good numbers in the minors is expected to bring that same level of dominance and success into the majors at day one.

    There are precious few players in every generation who make that happen. For the rest, the journey to becoming solid – if not sensational – major-league players are measured against the best of the very best. Which is unfortunate. We have seen many players who go on to great careers, in some cases Hall of Fame careers, who needed a year or two or three in the majors to find themselves, to hone their craft, to make the adjustments needed and learn the lessons to unleash their full greatness.

    Long after Newcomb left the mound, and long after I left SunTrust Park to write my next-day Braves’ preview, another bigtime Atlanta prospect made his mark. Second baseman Ozzie Albies, promoted earlier in the week and playing in his third game at the big-league level, belted a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth – his first major-league hit in his eighth at-bat.

    Amid the joy of seeing Albies round the bases on my TV, I could not help but think somewhere, there were people saying to themselves, “it’s about time he did something.”

    This is the culture in which we live, for better or worse.



    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.