Can Kevin Newman be the Pirate Shortstop in 2018?

(Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /

Will the Pittsburgh Pirates have a new shortstop for the 2018 season?

After making his Major League debut in 2012, Jordy Mercer has been a regular on the Pirate 25-man roster since 2013. Dating back to the 2014 season, Mercer has been the team’s everyday shortstop. However, a change could be on the horizon.

There are a few reasons that there could be a change on the horizon. One of them is Jordy Mercer’s contract situation. As Mercer enters his final season of arbitration, he can become a free agent after the 2018 season.

This past offseason the Pirates and Mercer discussed a contract extension. However, nothing came to fruition. To read more about the financial reasons behind Mercer’s time in Pittsburgh possibly ending soon, you can read what Nick wrote about it here.

The other reason Jordy Mercer could potentially be replaced at shortstop is Kevin Newman. The 24-year-old Newman was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft by the Pirates in 2015 out of the University of Arizona.

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Entering the 2017 season Kevin Newman was viewed as one of the top middle infield prospects in all of baseball. Baseball America had Newman as the 55th best prospect in baseball, MLB Pipline ranked Newman 59th, and Baseball Prospectus had Newman 65th.

Despite the high praise for Newman, there are serious concerns about his ability to be an everyday Major League shortstop. The first concern is Newman’s defense. While Mercer is no Omar Vizquel at shortstop, his +2 defensive runs saved (DRS) and .981 fielding percentage in his career are both good enough to get by on a daily basis. There is no guarantee that Kevin Newman could replicate this at shortstop.

This past season Newman had his fair share of issues at shortstop in the minor leagues. Like Mercer, Newman has range issues at shortstop. Newman also is not as automatic on the routine plays as Mercer is.

Another reason for concern with Kevin Newman is the trait he is supposed to be known for – his offense. Newman’s offensive prowess helped him shoot up the Pirates’ system. In 2016 he posted a 9.0 percent walk rate, 6.3 percent strikeout rate, .426 wOBA and a 171 wRC+ at High-A, earning a promotion to Double-A where he owned a 9.7 percent walk rate, 9.0 percent strikeout rate, .339 wOBA, and a 108 wRC+.

In 2017, however, Newman’s offensive p,75 plate appearances at Double-A in 2017 Kevin Newman owned a 5.9 percent walk rate, 10.7 percent strikeout rate, .310 on-base percentage, .099 ISO, .303 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 83.

These struggles made his promotion to Triple-A a bit of a surprise. In 178 plate appearances at Triple-A, the struggles continued for Kevin Newman. He owned a 3.9 percent walk rate, 12.4 percent strikeout rate, .314 on-base percentage, .090 ISO, .306 wOBA, and an 88 wRC+ for the Indianapolis Indians.

As Kevin Newman has progressed through the Pirate system his offense has not progressed with him. Additionally, his power has steadily declined and his strikeout rate has risen. These are often times signs of a hitter that is being overmatched at the plate. If this is the case for Kevin Newman, then he is not ready to man shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018.

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Kevin Newman will begin the 2018 season at Triple-A. While there, Newman needs to improve his offensive ability. The first thing Newman needs to do is get back to being the patient hitter with fewer strike outs that he was earlier in his professional career. For there, increased contact and then power will come.

Barring something unforeseen, Kevin Newman will make his Major League debut in 2018. What remains to be seen is when he debuts and in what capacity. Could Jordy Mercer’s tenure as Pirate shortstop be ended by Kevin Newman in 2018? We will have to wait and see.