Frisco, Texas —— You might never think Jake Newberry would be the Texas League‘s best relief pitcher if you looked at his draft stock (37th round, 2012), his repertoire (Newberry sits right around 90 mph), or his stat line (just 27 strikeouts in 40.1 innings pitched this summer). And yet here on July 11, the San Diego native is outpacing everyone in the Double-A circuit in both saves (13) and games finished (24), and enjoyed a spot in the Texas League’s All-Star Game a few weeks ago—the first midseason award of his career. Undoubtedly peaking at the right time, do the Kansas City Royals have themselves a sleeper prospect here in Jake Newberry, their 22-year-old relief ace dominating Double-A in his first shot at the level?
Now, Newberry won’t light up a radar gun, sitting 88-91 mph and topping out at 92 mph in my look at him back at the end of May. His stuff is good enough but not great with an 82-84 mph slider and an 81-83 mph changeup, both which dive down into the bottom of the zone and can draw some swings and misses when commanded well and sequenced smartly. But he’s not exactly the power relief prospect type you might expect to see at this level, and thus likely doesn’t have as high a ceiling as others might, right?
There’s something to be said for bulldog-type guys who out-pitch their projections and (lack of) raw power stuff, with Hall of Fame reliever Trevor Hoffman being perhaps the greatest example. The baseball world is obsessed over stocking as many mid- and upper-90s throwers as possible into one bullpen, assuming (often correctly) that more velocity means more margin of error in command and a better ability to miss bats with runners on base in close situations. Jake Newberry doesn’t miss bats like you’d hope for in an eventual closer, and so perhaps his ceiling is somewhat limited at the big league level, but he challenges hitters and limits his own mistakes—cardinal rules one and two for being a successful relief pitcher no matter how hard you may throw.
I also think a significant portion of Newberry’s success comes from his very short, clean arm action. With mechanics like that, the Kansas City Royals prospect hides the ball well and lets it get on hitters quicker than what radar gun readings would have them believe. It will also help him long term with relatively lower injury risk and the ability to more consistently repeat his simple mechanics with runners on and while working through fatigue. That, in turn, will help his command, and when Newberry keeps his pitches down—even without plus velocity—there’s a lot to love in his ground ball repertoire.
Above all, he’s just 22 years old and running through Double-A lineups with ease as the hot hand in Northwest Arkansas’ bullpen this summer. I don’t think his long-term ceiling will come as a closer in the big leagues on account of the lack of velocity and wipeout stuff, but it’s impossible to ignore Jake Newberry right now in the Texas League and he’s setting the table for what could be a productive big league middle relief career.
Jake Newberry, RHP, Kansas City Royals — Game Video
Below is our Jake Newberry video, taken from his May 30, 2017 outing for Northwest Arkansas on the road in Frisco, Texas against the Frisco RoughRiders:
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