Kevin Newman wanted to play as soon as possible.
That’s why the No. 19-overall pick signed a deal a week after the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him with their first round choice in the 2015 draft, the team announced Monday. Newman’s parents, Tammy and John, were in attendance for the announcement.
“It’s a dream come true and it’s hard to believe,” Newman said. “This whole week is almost like ‘are we dreaming?’ Getting here and signing papers, I still can’t believe it’s happening.”
Newman went undrafted out of high school due to a high asking price and what he described as performance that didn’t match what he asked for in that draft. But that provided him the chance to go to college at Arizona and play high-level collegiate baseball in the Pac-12.
As a result, he feels he’s better prepared for his jump into the professional ranks.
“Out of high school it’s really tough to make it,” Newman said. “I don’t think I was physically ready, or mentally for that matter. Playing three years with Coach [Andy] Lopez, it’s without a doubt prepared me much more than I would’ve been out of high school.”
Another thing he learned at Arizona was how to manage his time better and said his ability to develop a routine will be a key for his success at the next level.
Newman was named to the Pac-12 First Team after he hit .370 last season after he was named to the D1Baseball.com, PerfectGame and Louisville Slugger preseason All-American names. He was an all-conference as a junior in 2014 as well.
“We’ve been following Kevin for a while,” General Manager Neal Huntington said. “Our guys fell in love with him last year. Hoped he would get to us, never dreamed he would.”
The 21-year-old shortstop will report to the West Virginia Black Bears, playing their inaugural season after the Jamestown Jammers moved to Morgantown. Huntington excitedly noted Newman will be the first first-rounder to play for the short-season club.
There, Newman will begin his professional career. Both parties involved were glad to get a deal done quickly, as Huntington stressed the advantages of starting in a short-season league than playing 142 games in his first season as a pro.
The early signing allows Newman to begin experiencing the professional lifestyle and adjusting to the grind of being a pro player.
“The biggest thing is the ability to get used to the demands of the game,” Huntington said. “The ability to figure out how to hydrate, how to properly eat, how to get ready for the game on a professional level day in and day out and the ability to then take that knowledge into an offseason and prepare for a 142 game season going into the next year.”
As he moves into pro ball, Newman says he wants to improve his defense and get stronger. But adding strength isn’t to turn himself into a power hitter.
One of the “knocks” on Newman was that his power was from gap-to-gap and not over the fence. That doesn’t concern the Pirates and they aren’t looking to change him.
“Obviously I don’t hit for very much power and the Pirates know that and they didn’t draft me to turn me into a power guy,” Newman said. “They drafted me because of who I am and how I play and that’s how I plan to continue playing.”
The Pirates emphasize they want hitters to be “good hitters with power” and not power hitters throughout the organization. Newman said it was nice to hear the Pirates wouldn’t try to turn him into a player he isn’t after hearing so much about his power and lack thereof.
“They’ve told me they like who I am and how I hit,” Newman said. “It’s definitely refreshing to hear that.”
Above all, Newman’s knowledge of the way the Pirates farm system operates assures him he’s in one of the best possible situations to begin a successful major-league career.
“I’ve heard that the Pirates are big on their own guys and getting them to the big leagues,” Newman said. “So coming into this organization where they invest as much time and money and resources as they do into their prospects, it really couldn’t be any better.”