Justin Blood joked that it’s like someone holding a BB gun, “and then all of a sudden it’s a rocket launcher.”
When the former UConn pitching coach came 30 miles west to assume the head coaching position at the University of Hartford in 2011, he inherited an incoming freshman with just one Division 1 offer, from the aforementioned Hawks. Middleborough High graduate Sean Newcomb was just a raw and lanky lefty at 6-foot-4, with mid-80’s velocity and a modicum of college football interest as a tight end.
Three years, one inch and 35 pounds later, the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder has allegedly hit triple-digits several times this spring, to go along with what ESPN.com Insider Keith Law calls an “above-average curveball and a vastly improved changeup,” and is the program’s highest-profile pro prospect since Jeff Bagwell. When the first round of the MLB Draft commences Thursday night, Law projects that Newcomb will be gone within the first 15 picks.
“Six-foot-5 lefthanders who touch 98 and have four pitches don’t grow on trees,” one National League scout told ESPNBoston.com. “As far as what you look for and what you hope for, you don’t stumble on those guys very often, guys who have gone out and performed at a very high level, and have done it for a couple of years now. He’s proven that he’s deserving of taking the next step.”
Blessed with a four-seam fastball that regularly clocks around 95 mph, a low-80’s changeup, a 78-mph curve and a cutter he developed last summer that Blood said “can be devastating”, Newcomb came into the spring regarded as one of the Northeast’s top prospects, following a breakout sophomore season and summer with the Wareham Gatemen in the Cape Cod League. He captivated the region this spring with a dominant start to the season.
Through the first half of the 2014 season, Newcomb led the nation with a 0.00 ERA -- including a no-hitter on March 29 -- not allowing an earned run until his seventh start of the year against Maine on April 6. His final start of the season -- a May 22 win over Binghamton -- might have been his best of the year, racking up a season-high 14 K’s and allowing just two hits.
At season’s end, Newcomb re-wrote the history books at Hartford, becoming the first player in school history to amass 200 career strikeouts and first to be named Pitcher of the Year in the America East Conference. He finished eighth in the nation in ERA (1.25) and 20th in strikeouts (121).
How did it all happen so quickly? Sometimes the big guys just take a little bit longer to develop. For Newcomb, filling into his body was one major factor, along with an emphasis on lower-body weight training.
“I grew about an inch taller, and then I started to lift a lot more than in high school,” he said. “And then on top of eating more in college and stuff, I guess it all kind of added up.”
Even that summer going into his freshman season, Newcomb had begun to pick up three or four miles of velocity. When Newcomb first arrived at Hartford in the fall of 2011, Blood saw a good piece of clay to work with.
“The first day I saw him playing catch, you could just tell playing catch, the way the ball came out of his hand, the arm action,” Blood recalled. “I can honestly say before he stepped on the mound, my pitching coach and I were confident we would have a pretty good arm to work with at least.”
For Blood, who helped develop 2011 Red Sox first-round pick Matt Barnes at UConn, Newcomb’s sudden bloom was a matter of everything clicking at once.
“When these kids have good arm action and have some size, they get a little mass on that length and learn to use their legs better, they’re gonna have a velocity jump,” Blood said. “Sean has almost as perfect a combination you can ask for -- very easy arm action, great size, great strength. The big difference for him is figuring out how to harness all these things.”
Those comments run similar to the view of scouts, who view his fluid, clean delivery as a very desirable trait.
“He’s shown to have durability and easy motion,” said an American League scout. “There are some things to correct going forward, but the effortless delivery with a lot of velocity without a lot of stress, along with a lot of spin on his breaking ball, he checks off a lot of boxes.”