It probably won’t take long for Pittsburgh Pirates’ first round pick Kevin Newman to sign. The Arizona shortstop seemed eager to begin his pro career during a conference call with the Pittsburgh media following his selection.
“I’m ready,” Newman said on his plans to sign. “Leading up to this, I’ve been preparing to get going and get out of here and play somewhere. Right now I’m still on a high of getting selected. I can’t wait to get out there, and put on a uniform and go play.”
This is all a big change from the last time he was in the draft, which was in 2012. Newman was just out of high school at the time, with a commitment to Arizona, but went undrafted and ended up going to college.
“I thought I was going to get selected, and obviously ended up not being selected,” Newman said. “It was just fueling the fire. I went to Arizona and kept my head down and worked hard. 30 teams passed up coming out of high school, and I wanted to make 29 of them regret it.”
This time around, he was receiving a lot of attention as a first rounder, with the Pirates showing a lot of interest throughout the process. They had a lot of personnel and front office members watching him, and Newman said he had a hunch they would take him, just based on how often he talked with them.
“The Pirates showed a lot of interest in me,” Newman said. “If not the most, second most of any team.”
A lot of teams started to notice him due to his performance in the Cape Cod league last year. Newman hit .380 in 121 at-bats, with seven doubles, 18 walks, and 10 stolen bases. He said that the performance did a lot for him, and put him on the radar.
Those numbers are about what you can expect from him going forward. He’s a great hitter with solid plate patience and some speed on the bases, but he’s not going to hit for much power beyond some gap power. Newman even admitted that was the type of player he was.
“My approach at the plate is a gap to gap approach,” Newman said. “I don’t try to hit home runs. I let my legs work. So I try to make my outs on the ground and spray the ball all over the field. When I get on first, I try to steal second and turn a single into a double that way. Power has never really been a part of my game.”
Newman said that he will stick with that approach unless the Pirates want him to change it. However, I doubt the Pirates will want him to make a change, since they seem less concerned with power, and more concerned with guys who can hit. And while people mostly equate power with home runs, they have been comfortable with extra base hits and line drives to the gaps being a key source of power, as long as the player is a good hitter who can get on base.
As for the defense, Newman said that he hopes to stay at shortstop, since he’s only played that position since Little League. The reports on him suggest he has a chance to stick at the position, although it’s not guaranteed. The Pirates will certainly give him a shot, as they’ve had a trend of trying guys out at premium positions, even if there are questions about whether that guy can play the position.
When it comes to shortstop, they’ve shown a little bit more patience than most teams would. They stuck with Alen Hanson until the end of last season, despite very inconsistent performances throughout his career. They were comfortable throwing Jung-ho Kang in the mix in the majors, despite poor reports about his defense. They are even experimenting with JaCoby Jones in the lower levels, converting him from a center fielder/second baseman to the shortstop position, all due to his athleticism.
It will be interesting to see how Newman fits in the mix this year and next year. The Pirates usually send their college picks to their New York-Penn League affiliate, so I’d expect Newman to go to Morgantown. However, they’ve sent some of their better college hitters in the past to Bradenton. Jones is currently in Bradenton, and will most likely move to Altoona by next season. Cole Tucker is in West Virginia, but is young, and isn’t putting up monster results. I could see the Pirates keeping Tucker back in West Virginia for a second season, and moving Newman ahead of him to Bradenton.
As for the future of the shortstop position, the Pirates are starting to build up some options. Next year they will probably start the year with Jones in Altoona, Newman in Bradenton, and Tucker in West Virginia. I also like Adrian Valerio, who is one of the best defenders in the system, and will probably be in a short-season league after playing in the GCL this year. Obviously if Jung-ho Kang works out, and if Jordy Mercer rebounds, they won’t need a shortstop for a few years. But it’s always nice to have plenty of options, and the Pirates are starting to get there with this position.