Pittsburgh Pirates Top Prospects: Number Nine Kevin Newman
The regular season has started with the minor league season soon to be as we continue to break down our Top 20 Pittsburgh Pirates prospect list. Here is number nine on the list.
Over the last few years, the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system has been considered one of the best in baseball. However, after enjoying a period of playoff baseball, and in turn picking lower in the draft, they have seen their system fall toward the middle of the pack. Still, rankings by scouting websites are not everything. They have plenty of intriguing prospects who could break out just as much as a team with a top farm system.
With that being said, we have come up with our top 20 prospects for the 2018 season. The articles will look at each player, starting at 20 and working toward one. So far we have looked at pitchers Clay Holmes at number 20, Gage Hinsz at number 19, Travis MacGregor at 18, and left-handed starter Braeden Ogle at 17. The first hitter to show up on our countdown was Calvin Mitchell at number 16 and Oneil Cruz at number 15. Coming in at number 14 was 2017 draft pick Steven Jennings. Then was is a pair of international prospect in right-hander Luis Escobar at number 13 overall and outfielder Lolo Sanchez at number 12. Right-handed starter and 2010 draftee Nick Kingham came in at number 11. Hard-throwing left-hander Taylor Hearn came in at number 10. So who is the number nine ranked prospect on the top 20 list?
The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted shortstop Kevin Newman with the 19th overall pick back in the 2015 draft. The 6’1″ and 180-pound middle infielder played college ball at the University of Arizona. While a member of the Wildcats, the now 24-year-old hit .337/.396/.421 including a .370/.426/.489 in his junior season. The Pirates liked Newman’s bat to ball skill despite the lack of impact power and made him the second shortstop in a row the team took in the first round.
In Newman’s 1292 career minor league plate appearances, he has hit .283/.340/.382, good contact skills but really lacking any semblance of average power. After tearing up High A ball to a tune of .366/.428/.494 in 2016, he has hit just .274/.328/.368 in Double-A and Triple-A. The good news is he has only struck out 10.5 percent in the upper levels, once again making good contact, but the power and on-base rates leave a lot to be desired.
Compounding the problem with Newman’s bat is the .274/.328/.368 slash he put up in 178 plate appearances at the Triple-A level. The 3.9 percent walk rate given his lack of pop is concerning, but the bat to ball is still there. That alone should get him to the majors, especially given the Pirates love for that ability, but it limits his potential ceiling.
On the defensive side of the ball, Newman is solid, nothing splashy but he’ll get the job done at short. There’s value in a shortstop that makes the routine play consistently, and there’s a good chance he moves over to other side of the bag given Cole Tucker‘s 2017 breakout.
Newman will start off as the shortstop for the Indianapolis Indians. Throughout his Pittsburgh Pirates career he has only played shortstop, but in spring training he received time at second base. Getting comfortable at a new position will only help Newman, not just with Jordy Mercer blocking his path as of now, but with Tucker creeping up behind him.
The power looks like it’ll never come, so the big thing will be to watch the on-base and walk rates. If Newman can improve to walking back to what he did early in his minor league that would be huge going forward. Without the power potential, getting on-base – especially with his contact skills – is needed for his future role.
There’s a good chance that Newman makes his debut at some point this season, but with Mercer occupying short and Josh Harrison at second, that’ll either come due to an injury or later in the year. With Mercer in a contract year, Newman might get an extended look as the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop next year until Tucker is ready.
The big thing for Newman – be it as a shortstop, second baseman, or bench bat with Kevin Kramer‘s improvement – is getting on-base at a higher clip again. The contact skills are there and the glove is fine, meaning Newman should be a big leaguer, but his role and ceiling will depend on if he can get that on-base back up, especially with the lack of power.
*Numbers from Fangraphs