Scouts Flock to See UHart Pitcher with 0.00 ERA
By PAT EATON-ROBB
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Sean Newcomb says he doesn’t even notice them anymore _ all the major league scouts pointing radar guns at him every time he winds up.
It’s just become part of the background at Fiondella Field, like the scoreboard, which this day again has a series of zeroes next to the word “Guest.”
The Hartford junior left-hander, who according to those radar guns consistently throws his fastball at 94-95 mph, leads Division I with a 0.00 ERA. He has given up just 14 hits and one unearned run in 39 2-3 innings, while striking out 46 and walking 19.
Those numbers have been attracting the scouts ahead of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft that starts June 5. Twenty-eight of them went to see him pitch seven no-hit innings last Saturday in a 1-0 win against Stony Brook. Another large contingent is expected to watch this weekend when he takes the mound at Maine.
No Hawks player has generated this much buzz since Jeff Bagwell in the 1980s.
“It’s kind of a lot of pressure at some points, but I try not to think about that,” Newcomb said. “I’ve been attacking the zone a little better this year, and there have been a good amount of plays made behind me.”
Newcomb didn’t begin attracting MLB attention until after high school in Middleboro, Mass. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, he was vacillating between baseball and football. A tight end, he had been getting recruiting letters from schools such as Boston College, North Carolina State and Rutgers.
He made just one baseball visit, to Hartford. The Hawks offered him a scholarship, and he accepted.
“I just liked baseball better and was better at it,” he said. “So that made it kind of easy.”
Coach Justin Blood took over at Hartford that same summer of 2011. A former pitching coach at UConn, who mentored players such as Boston Red Sox prospect Matt Barnes, Blood said he took one look at Newcomb and realized he had someone special.
“I just remember watching him play long toss, and you could see the way the ball came out of his hand,” he said. “I just looked at my assistant and said, `I can’t wait to see him on the mound.’ That day he was 87, 89, he touched 90.”
Newcomb’s first college win was a no-hitter against Yale, and Blood said awareness started to spread.
Blood said Newcomb has spent a lot of time in the weight room, transforming his body from pudgy to muscular. With Blood’s help, he’s also improved his mechanics and velocity.
“My legs have gotten a lot stronger, and that’s been a big part of it, getting my lower half involved,” Newcomb said.
Former Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, now a special assistant with the New York Mets, was among those watching Newcomb pitch against Stony Brook. He said it’s not that unusual to see a 6-foot-5 pitcher with a 95 mph fastball, but “I think it’s rare to see him in Hartford.”
He and other scouts want to see what else Newcomb has to offer.
“Velocity is great, but it’s not the end-all-be all,” Ricciardi said. “You’ve got to be able to throw strikes; you’ve got to be able to get people out. That’s the most important thing at the major league level. That’s what’s important to us, is guy who can throw strikes and get you off the field real quick. He’s throwing strikes, so he’s doing a good job.”
Ricciardi would not speculate as to where Newcomb might get selected. But for now it appears he could wind up in the top half of the first round.
Blood said Newcomb’s curveball and changeup are coming along. He says when a player makes the jump in velocity, like the one Newcomb has made in the past two years, it takes time for other pitchers to get refined.
“I don’t think it’s a big concern,” he said. “He does everything so easily, and everything has progressed.”
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