LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. – Imagine being pitcher Sean Newcomb. You’re 23. You’re on all the top 100 Major League prospects lists, having led the Double A Southern League in strikeouts a season ago. Pitchers and catchers have reported. Life is one big infinity pool, the horizon endless.
And when Newcomb arrived at the Braves spring headquarters in the Disney cluster, he was particularly amused when he looked up at the locker name plates on either side of his own.
To his left was Bartolo Colon, the 43-year-old, well-rounded veteran who made his Major League debut when young Newcomb was not quite 4. No, he did not remember that Cleveland version of Colon, the leaner, hard throwing one.
And to his right was 42-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, whose career has traveled a path nearly as eccentric as his go-to pitch. The kid was book-ended by relics. There in one picture frame was the tableau for this Braves season’s – the promise of youth versus the exigency of finding someone to throw the ball today.
“I thought that was pretty funny; I was not expecting it,” Newcomb said. “I’m definitely happy to be between them. I’m ready to learn from them.”
The Braves went out and imported three wily vets (they also traded for 30-year-old Jaime Garcia) as stopgap starters, more or less conceding that the grand plan of building a staff of young arms like the one hanging from Newcomb’s shoulder (obtained from the Angels for Andrelton Simmons) was going to take a little time. Young pitchers can’t be rushed to market.
Yeah, these elders can impart wisdom. And in Colon and Dickey there is all this proof just walking around the Braves clubhouse that the more adaptable a pitcher is, the more valuable he can make himself. Colon the former high velocity guy who now lives on guile and pitch placement. And then there’s Dickey, the one who in desperation reinvented himself behind the quirkiest of pitches.
“It’s something to try to take in (how his locker neighbors evolved), knowing that what you do now isn’t necessarily what will make you a success or take you the whole way through your career,” Newcomb said.
So, can he picture himself still dressing up in play clothes and pitching at 40? “I’d love to. It’s crazy to think that’s still 17 years away, but I think I can do it.” (OK, kid, don’t rub it in).
But apart from the experience they lend, these vets are also standing between pitchers like Newcomb and their ultimate goal of joining the big team in its brand new home on the cusp of Cobb.
Asked his thoughts upon learning the Braves were bringing in the three seasoned starters, Newcomb said, “It’s a little bit of everything – mostly that those are the spots you’re fighting for. And just knowing they are people you can watch and learn from.”
As long as he learns the right stuff, all is good. But given his new surroundings, Newcomb is either going to really mature as a pitcher or by the end of the spring he’s going to weigh 280 pounds and throw 75 mph, and have the urge to get in a nap before eating dinner at 4:30.