Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Ji-Hwan Bae deserves the promotion to the bigs before stalwart Kevin Newman gets recalled after his rehab assignment.
The Pittsburgh Pirates saw shortstop Kevin Newman go down with an injury back during the season’s first weeks. He only got to play 14 games before suffering a groin injury. Newman has started his rehab assignment at Triple-A, which already has a more talented, faster, contact-hitting middle infielder in Ji-Hwan Bae.
Right now, Bae deserves the call to the majors before Newman gets his re-promotion.
After doing an excellent job at Double-A Altoona, Bae has continued to put up rock-solid numbers at Triple-A Indianapolis. It’s only been 133 plate appearances, but he is batting .278/.361/.426. That’s almost identical to his line in 2021, where he batted .278/.359/.413 at Double-A. Not only has Bae been doing very solid since arriving to the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he’s also been improving.
Bae has a .148 isolated slugging percentage, an improvement from last year’s .134, which is a massive improvement from .107 in 2019. He currently has a 12% walk rate, a 2.1% uptick from Double-A. He has also only struck out 17.3% of the time, a 5.4% increase from last season. The strikeout and walk improvements are the most critical changes in Bae’s game.
But while Bae is trending in the right direction in the minor leagues, Newman has been the league’s worst hitter the last two seasons. Newman ranked dead last in OBP, slugging percentage, wOBA, OPS, and wRC+, the five most important and accurate offensive stats in baseball. Now, sure, he has a .683 OPS, .304 wOBA, and 96 wRC+ through his small sample size of 2022, but there isn’t much suggesting much has changed under the hood.
Newman still has an 84.8 MPH exit velocity and 31.7% hard-hit rate. Although his hard-hit percentage is a career-best, his exit velo is a career-worst. Plus, 31.7% still ranks below the bottom 15th percentile. Newman also has a .337 expected slugging percentage and .375 expected wOBA, two numbers that pretty much fall in between his 2020 and 2021 expected marks. The only plus is that he’s decreased his ground ball rate to just 39%. Still, as his expected stats show, which take into account things like exit velocity and launch angle, that hasn’t significantly helped his chances of improving his offense.
Not only has Newman not performed well, but he doesn’t provide as much positional flexibility as Bae. Newman has pretty much only played shortstop and second base. He only has 73.2 innings logged at any other position outside of the middle infield. Bae, on the other hand, has mostly played second base but has experience at shortstop and has recently taken up center field. His athleticism and quickness play well in the grass.
Look, if they don’t want to give Oneil Cruz the call yet, fine. He got off to an ice-cold start, and although he’s turned on the jets as of recently, the Pirates might want him to have another good week or two before committing to him as the long-term shortstop or corner outfielder. But Ji-Hwan Bae has done nothing but put up decent numbers at every level of the minor leagues. He’s at Triple-A now and has continued to hit. Kevin Newman shouldn’t block one of the Pirates’ better middle infield prospects.