The Impressive Performance Hidden Behind Kevin Newman’s Numbers

Last night the Pirates promoted 2015 first round pick Kevin Newman to West Virginia, despite not so strong numbers from the shortstop in Morgantown. On the season, Newman had a .226/.281/.340 line in 159 at-bats. However, he showed some improvement recently, after struggling for most of the first month of the season.

Newman had just a .158/.238/.193 line in 57 at-bats through July 11th. Since that point, he has put up a .265/.306/.422 line in 102 at-bats, and the live play has looked even better than the stat line.

“Coming off the draft I had three weeks off between college and professional [baseball],” Newman said about his early struggles. “It took a little bit to get adjusted. I made a couple of tweaks to my swing, and coaches here have helped me out. Just seeing the ball better, and more comfortable, more relaxed. I’ve kind of gotten my feet wet, and now I kind of know what it’s about here in professional baseball.”

Newman said that he worked on sitting back in his stance more, rather than getting out in front of the ball, which makes it easier to see the ball deeper and hit off-speed pitches. That’s a common approach the Pirates take with all of their hitters, having them focus on hitting to the middle of the field and opposite field, while capitalizing on a short swing. They haven’t been making major changes yet with their first rounder, but they are already working on this system-wide approach.

It makes sense for the Pirates to avoid major changes. They typically have a “hands off” period that runs around the length of the short-season leagues. During this time they evaluate a player and see his game before making any adjustments to that game. Newman happens to have a lot of the skills the Pirates like in a player. He’s a good hitter with advanced plate patience who won’t hit for a lot of home run power, but drives the ball well and should have plenty of extra bases, especially with his speed.

“They told me they drafted me for who I am,” Newman said on the feedback the Pirates gave him about his game. “That was one of the first things they said after they drafted me and I went to Pittsburgh. Met a lot of people, they all said ‘we like you for who you are, we don’t expect you to change, we don’t expect you to hit for home runs.’ I’m a blue-collar, hard-working player, and that’s who they drafted. That’s who they want me to be.”

The whole “blue-collar, hard-working player” part sounded a lot like a cliché when Newman said it on Thursday night in Morgantown. But he walked the walk on Friday night. Newman ripped a fly ball/line drive down the left field line that night, and immediately sprinted out of the box with his head down. He rounded first, ran hard to second, and slid into the bag. At that point, he looked up and noticed the other team running off the field. While Newman was busy trying to stretch a single to a double, everyone else knew that the left fielder had ranged far to catch the ball for the final out of the inning.

“He’s a hard-nosed player. He plays hard,” Black Bears manager Wyatt Toregas said after Friday’s game. “He hit that ball, and I think when he hit it, he thought double, and he was [thinking] right out of the box double. He put his head down and he ran all the way through. That’s what we teach.”

The out was primarily due to an impressive play by the left fielder, who had to range far to make the catch. At first it looked like the ball might drop in for a single that Newman could stretch to a double.

“It shows you what Newman is thinking about,” Toregas said. “He’s not thinking about whether the guy is going to catch it or not. He’s thinking ‘I’m getting a double on this.’ And that’s the aggressive mindset that I love about him.”

I was only able to see Newman for three games, and it’s hard to get a good read on a guy in that short amount of time. I’ll get to see him make his debut tomorrow in Charleston, but even that won’t give enough time for an accurate evaluation. What I’ve seen so far has been impressive. He doesn’t swing at bad pitches and makes solid contact with the ball. He’s got plus speed, and the biggest thing that stood out to me is that he’s an all-out player, as indicated above.

Defensively, it’s hard to grade Newman based on the field in Morgantown, which is turf and sees a lot of balls spring up really fast, almost as if they’re taking a bad hop on a dirt field. Considering the situation, Newman handled the fielding duties well. Errors aren’t the best way to evaluate defense in the minor leagues, but Newman has shown some improvements there. He had an error in each of his first two games in Morgantown. Since then, he has only had two errors in 15 games at home, suggesting that he got used to the field. In my limited view, he looked smooth on the field, with the arm strength needed to stick at shortstop.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of Newman in his West Virginia debut on Monday, and in the fall instructional leagues. My first impression was a good one. He comes across as a smart player who knows his strengths, and isn’t temped to move away from those strengths to try and be something he’s not (a power hitter). As for those strengths, Newman looked much better than his numbers in Morgantown, and the total package of speed, defense, a good approach at the plate, and consistent solid contact should make him an interesting shortstop prospect to watch in the future.

  • an ‘advanced’ college hitter with zero power and dripping ‘intangibles’ better be a Vizquel Lite fielder to have any Big Show impact (and does that even matter in an era of shifts?)…and they drafted same/different kid in second round (topped out college middle infielder)…almost feels like a justification storm with Tucker shoulder…to circle back, CT shoulder concerns before 2015 Draft?…no matter, needs to be a fielding star to garner meaningful attention

  • I think Tucker stays at WV Power next year, He’s on the DL now and he didn’t exactly rake. Hit well but did not rake. I think Newman is an advanced hitter and his numbers for the bears was anomaly . He won 2 Cape Cod league batting titles and Keith Law ranked Newman one of the best hitters in the draft. I think he will hit the rest of the season and Tucker will stay a level behind him. It will be interesting to see which one becomes the SS of the future and see which one has to be moved off the position or be traded eventually. It’s good competition

  • I think we should reserve our judgement of Newman until he played a full season before calling him a bust I mean 159 at-bat is not a lot to judge a player with his talents.They must see something they like and I remember when tucker was drafted everybody was upset now we love him give him time.Love the site great job on everything u guys do been coming here for three years and couldn’t ask for a better coverage.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    August 9, 2015 4:47 pm

    You are correct, and undeserved promotion, based on his performance. It will be interesting to see who plays SS when Tucker and Newman are available.

    I suspect that the weight of the big contract, first round pick status, and the high expectations that go with all that had to have affected Newman in some way. I hope he just had a bad start and will start living up to that billing. I am still concerned with his bat, especially as he advances through the system. I am still not convinced he was worthy of being taken where he was in the draft, but the next year or two will tell a lot. For the Pirates sake, I hope he proves me wrong and he becomes an outstanding SS prospect – especially since the traded Jones away.

    • No one on this site can really judge if it was deserved or not. It may have been planned all along.

  • I’d love to see more Pirate players ‘bust it’ out of the box rather than admiring what they just hit.

  • No question I value your opinion Tim, limited or not, but I couldn’t disagree more evaluating Newman. I’ve seen him live also three times – and I know it’s not alot but also what are you looking for in those three games is important.
    What I was looking for was a 1st round draft pick. I was looking for a player with elite potential – a future impact MLB player. That’s what a 1st round pick should be used on is it not?
    In no way do I think Newman is a bad player – I saw pretty much exactly what you described a player advanced for the league unable to adjust and/or dominate it. No skills that regardless of results that you dream on. Just a decent player – a third round type guy. IMO that’s the disappointing thing. I saw enough to think the Bucs took the wrong player in the 1st round.

    • Do you think seeing three games is enough to form any opinion at all? Way too early.

      • Sometimes it’s either there or it isn’t. It isn’t with Newman… think of Jordy. He’s a good starting SS in the majors and he was a third round pick. Can still be good. But if that’s the ceiling for your first round pick? Take a little risk with that one, it’s your best odds statistically speaking to hit. A big arm or some outrageous bat or some power or some d… To each their own and he’s now our own. Just not where I’d place my cards of the future.

        • It seems as if you’re basically disregarding every scouting report, projection, and interview with this player to highlight a preconceived notion of yours. You only saw three games, and you seem primarily focussed on the results, not the tools or intent. What they’re looking at here, is a SS with a better hit tool, and better speed than Mercer. That sounds like the difference between a first and a third round pick at a premium defensive position, and the exact kind of guy the Pirates look to draft. So if you can’t get on board with this pick, I’d probably recommend you divert your attention for the next several years.

          • Are these guys who evaluated Newman’s “hit tool” the same ones who evaluated Pedro’s “hit tool” ?????
            If Newman has been 100% healthy since he started playing in Morgantown no way is he close to a 1st Rnd Draft choice.

    • I think this is exactly where I am with Newman at this point as well. Sure 37 games is just 37 games, but he just doesn’t seem to be a huge impact player. He is playing at a level that he’s played at for years…he’s playing against the same age, same experience…college players…and he’s not doing anything all that impressive. His prior numbers were hugely effected by his high BABIP. Sure, the more you put the ball in play the more likely you are to get hits and have a high BABIP…but should we really expect him to continually have a higher BABIP than Andrew McCutchen has had?! He’s not as good as Cape Cod or Arizona numbers…and he’s not as bad as his numbers from Morgantown…that just does not sound much like a 1st round pick to me either.

      • You understand that as you move down the organization ladder the distribution in talent is wider and outliers will be more common.

      • A month of ab just doesn’t mean a lot…especially for a kid that is making an adjustment to pro ball. Everyone develops at their own speed and adjusts differently…and if Newman came in and immediately made small tweeks to his approach…those can have impacts. I think he will get hot before the season is over but if he doesn’t he will have 5 months to show what he is next year. 2.5 months after playing a full college season and being banged up doesn’t tell me much. If he sticks at ss and is a .280/.330/.420/.750 MLB ss…I think that would justify a first round pick. If he does that at 2B it’s a different story maybe. But Neil walker is a .775 ops 2B and a #1 pick that no one complains about.

    • What’s an impact player? Troy Tulowitzki? Andrelton Simmons? If one of those guys can hit around what Jack Wilson did with a non liability glove, I’ll take it. Provided they can put talent around him. You’re not going to hit every first round pick out of the park. If anything they need more of them to turn into doubles and singles.

      • The rate MLB ss are going a .700 ops and above average fielding is a starter. Didi gregorious is this guy and he is a ss for a first place team.

        • Definitely a far cry from the days of 30/40 Hrs from those guys. Even Jay Bell managed to bang out a few of those.

          I dont believe all of it steroids. I do believe the pitching has gotten better and deeper. More data and video available than even ten years ago too. JMO.

          • Steroid testing, shifts, better pitching, more consistent and slightly larger strike zone maybe. Guys have to muscle up to hit HR and average goes down and ks go up…better pitchers can really exploit this. I am amazed how many 30 walk, 130 K type hitters there are now when you are talking guys with power. They are sacrificing k:bb ratio to get more HR because it’s not nearly as easy to do anymore.

            • One of the numbers that blows me away from steroid era is walks. Bonds had twice the walks in 2004 that the leader in 2014 had. And he set the record a few times in the early 2000s. Thats definitely something thats seen a drastic change from a decade ago, not just the Hrs. Lot of runs right there.

              Wonder where things will be ten years from now? Will .270 be the new .300? Or will we see a rise in average again as hitters adjust? Game is always evolving,

              • If it gets that defensive they’ll just lower the mound again. Check out Pujols’ walks and look at the difference. He not only doesn’t get the respect he used to he also has changed his approach and gotten way more aggressive because pitchers are attacking him way more. A lot of it is he doesn’t get walked intentionally as much but it’s only half the reason for the decline. Maybe part of it is because Trout is always on base and a threat to steal so he sees more fastballs too. I don’t know. Even this year when he is on a pace for 40+ HR again for the first time since 2010 he has only walked 27 times unintentially. Pujols a .320 obp guy now. Enjot paying that 165 mil until 2021 Angels.

                • The balls and strikes called seem about as bad as they’ve ever been since Ive been alive too. Ive often wondered how teams track that, and if certain nights they tend to be more aggressive than usual because they know the umpire sucks/has a wide zone.

                  • It’s a good question. I think teams definitely know when an ump has a wide or small strikezone. An zone varying from ump to ump not as bad as it used to be but it is still exists for sure. I was just looking and since they got A-Ram he has grounded into 5 DP, made 4 errors, and has 4 XBH & Walks combined. I’m beginning to think they got him to take the pressure of being the worst player on the team off of Pedro.

    • There are maybe a half-dozen “impact players” in any given draft. To expect to get one picking in the 20’s is infantile.

      • Bingo, remember, this team isn’t picking in the first 5 or so picks anymore. Stars can certainly be found later in the first round, but expecting great things from a late first round pick right away is unrealistic. I also think we shouldn’t be zeroing in one on player and expecting him to make the entire draft class. As Tim has stated multiple times, the Pirates drafted a type of hitter, and drafted many hitters that fit the profile. Perhaps we should wait a few years (certainly more than just three games) to judge this draft class as a whole.

  • I think Tucker is in Bradenton all next year with a chance for a playoff push call up to AA. Newman the same a level behind. This will definitely be an intriguing battle for years to come.

    • Tucker is a full three years younger than Newman. I think it’s very likely Newman will jump ahead of him to Bradenton. Then promote both at midseason.

    • See John’s note. Newman is three years older than Tucker and much more polished. They will definitely have him jump Tucker next year.

  • With Tucker likely moving up next year do you think this is part of a plan to get Newman to Altoona at the beginning of 2016?

    • I think it looks opposite…Tucker may well stay at WV and Newman jump him to Bradenton.

  • So far the bat hasn’t been a strong part of his game. Lets see what he can do with this chance. I am a Cole Tucker fan so he will have to be outstanding to stop Cole from moving up next year.