INDIANAPOLIS — There’s a new everyday shortstop at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Goodbye, Ngoepe. Hello, Newman.
Kevin Newman was promoted to Indianapolis on July 20 and was immediately made the everyday shortstop, the only position he’s played as a professional.
Gift Ngoepe, who spent about five weeks with the Pirates earlier this season, will play a mixture of second base and third base, along with shortstop when Newman is out of the lineup.
One player — the 23-year-old Newman — is seen as the shortstop of the future, showing the ability to hit and play solid defense. The other — the 27-year-old Ngoepe — is a premier defensive shortstop who has shown minimal ability to improve offensively.
Newman has only played shortstop in his career and has a much higher upside. Ngoepe is the better defensive player, but his offensive struggles will severely limit his potential role in the major leagues to late-game defensive replacement.
That adds up to Newman becoming the new everyday shortstop in Indianapolis.
Newman’s First Ten Games in Triple-A
In a small sample size, Newman has held his own at the Triple-A level, hitting .286 with a .636 OPS in ten games. He’s played well defensively, though he doesn’t have the range of a player like Ngoepe.
“He has done nothing coming from Altoona to here to say, ‘This kid is going to struggle,’” Indianapolis hitting coach Butch Wynegar said. “He has made a pretty good adjustment.”
Newman missed two days after taking a foul ball off his shin on July 27, which left a baseball-sized knot on his leg. An x-ray didn’t show any serious problems, but he had to sit to let the swelling go down.
But Newman still gets points for toughness. He took the foul ball off his leg, but singled on the next pitch. He didn’t run well to first base and there was a meeting between Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett and trainer Dru Scott, with slight discussion of Newman staying in the game.
“I told them that I could stay in,” Newman said. “I couldn’t really run, so we made the decision that coming out would be the best call. I definitely try to (play through pain), but there’s a line where you can just kind of hurt yourself if you continue to do that.”
That foul ball off his leg is about all that has slowed down Newman since arriving in Indianapolis, having multiple hits in four of his 10 games. There’s no secret to his success, more a matter of keeping a similar type of mentality as he progresses through each level of the organization.
“It’s the same game — it’s baseball,” Newman said. “Hitters are a little stronger, a little faster. Pitchers are a little better with their location and their stuff. You just have to remember it’s the same game and you have to take it one game at a time.”
But there has been one slight adjustment once arriving in Indianapolis, adjusting his distance from the plate in the batter’s box. Newman appeared to initially struggle reaching pitches on the outside of the plate.
“So, we talked a little bit about if he feels like he’s too far away from the plate,” Wynegar said. “He made an adjustment where he moved a little bit closer and a little bit up in the box and he’s been good ever since.”
Ngoepe’s Offense Struggles
It’s been a few months since Ngoepe has been hitting well, severely struggling offensively since being optioned back to Indianapolis on June 1.
The numbers aren’t pretty.
Ngoepe is hitting .183 (23-for-126) since returning. And he’s digressing, hitting .161 since the start of July with more than two times as many strikeouts (23) as hits (10). Those numbers are bolstered by Ngoepe going 5-for-10 with a double, triple, and home run in his last three games.
“Kind of the same thing we’ve talked about from the get-go,” Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett said “Adopting a different approach where he uses the whole field, shortens the bat up and tries to play pepper instead of taking big swings. He just hasn’t really shown much adjustment in being able to do that.”
Ngoepe had a solid start to the season, hitting .241 in April with Indianapolis. That average isn’t eye-popping, but for what is expected out of Ngoepe not bad.
His biggest attribute is his defensive ability, showing major league range and fielding abilities. He’s had a Sports Center Top-10 play this season, catching a liner while falling backwards. He also made a game-saving play ranging up the middle in the ninth inning, throwing out a runner and preventing the tying runs to score on what would have been a single against most shortstops.
“That will be why he gets called up,” said Larry Broadway, director of minor league operations. “He’s not going to be called up because we want a right hand bat off the bench. Regardless if he’s hitting .290, .310 or .210, he’s going to be called up for defense.”
A Tale of Two Shortstops
The Pirates have two shortstop prospects in Triple-A who can both help at the big league level. That help comes in different forms.
Ngoepe is the better defensive player, but can be a liability offensively for large periods of time with too many strikeouts leading to empty at-bats. He still has a good chance of being promoted later in the season due to being on the 40-man roster. Any help from Ngoepe is going to come from his defense alone.
Newman is simply the future, a player that can defend and hit well. Unless there’s an injury, Newman is solidified at shortstop in Indianapolis for the foreseeable future, and a guy the Pirates are looking at for the future of the position in the majors.