ORLANDO, Fla.—For a time on Saturday on the Braves’ back fields, Atlanta had Sean Newcomb facing Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson. One field over, Touki Toussaint battled Austin Riley. And on a third field Ricardo Sanchez was mixing and matching pitches against a third lineup of fellow Braves.
It was one of those days when the Braves’ minor league rebuild seems ripe with possibilities. None of the prospects are finished prospects, but the potential is readily apparent.
And that’s never more true than when Toussaint steps onto the mound. Acquired last summer in a trade with the Diamondbacks that cost the Braves $10 million to take on Bronson Arroyo’s salary but little else (Arizona acquired infielder Phil Gosselin), Toussaint is nowhere close to being big league-ready. He’s not yet mastered low Class A. But Toussaint showed both the control troubles that bedevil him and the jaw-dropping stuff that made him a 2014 first-round pick in his sim game outing.
From the start, Toussaint had trouble throwing strikes. He walked the first two batters he faced and struggled with deep counts throughout his outing.
But every now and then, Toussaint would fire a running low-90s fastball on the black of the plate (this early in minor league camp most of the Braves pitchers aren’t at their peak velocity). Or he would let loose a curveball that could cause a batter to flinch on a ball that ended up on the outer half of the strike zone.
Toussaint’s control comes and goes from pitch to pitch. That combination of stuff and shaky control made catching Toussaint a rough assignment for catcher Ruben Perez. One of Toussaint’s better curveballs went to the backstop when Perez couldn’t catch it and a couple of fastballs also got away from the young catcher.
It’s easy to see why Toussaint has walked more than five batters per nine innings during his short minor league career—the control wavers significantly. What’s much more baffling is how he’s only struck out 7.7 batters per nine innings as a pro even though his combination of mid-90s fastball, plus-plus curveball and promising changeup give him three weapons.
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Toussaint had three months last season to get acclimated to being a Brave. For lefthander Sean Newcomb, this month is his first to get to wear a Braves jersey on the mound.
“At first you kind of think they traded me, you feel weird about it. At first it’s a shock, but once you figure out the logistics and what’s ahead of you, it’s definitely a good thing, I’m excited about it when it’s all said and done,” Newcomb said.
Newcomb, acquired in last November’s Andrelton Simmons trade, saw Ozzie Albies single to start their sim game, then watched Albies steal second, steal third and score when the throw to third was wild.
It wasn’t a great start, but Newcomb settled down to strike out Dansby Swanson, batting in the No. 2 hole, and generally worked his way around trouble for the rest of his outing. Newcomb spotted his above-average curveball well at times and generated some swings and misses with his fastball even though he isn’t yet in midseason form when it comes to velocity.
Newcomb sat 88-92 mph. As he explained, he tired as the game went on because he’s been hitting the weight room hard, to try to prepare for a long season, which left him with some tired legs.