INDIANAPOLIS — He had never played anywhere other than shortstop prior to this season.
Now, Kevin Newman is receiving the label of second baseman but still playing some at his customary position.
In the end, Newman doesn’t really care. His heart won’t break if he’s not labeled a major league shortstop. He just wants to become a major league player.
Wherever that might be.
“I think that’s pretty fair to say for most of the guys playing baseball,” Newman said. “We want to get to the major leagues, that’s why we play the game and that’s the ultimate goal. How that comes about is what we’ll have to wait to see.”
The Pirates’ organization has shown a propensity to give players the experience of playing numerous positions, creating numerous ways they could help the major league team down the road.
And it appears those within the organization see potential for Newman to help at second base. He’s played eight of his 13 games this season at the position and has played the other five at his familiar shortstop spot.
Cole Tucker has seemingly jumped ahead of Newman as the Pirates’ shortstop of the future. But Newman can carve his own niche out at second base or as a player capable of playing both middle infield spots.
“It puts another position on the resume and any way I can get better as a player, athletically, multiple positions, it always helps,” Newman said.
One could understand if Newman wasn’t excited about the position switch. Prior to this season he played all 270 of his professional games in the field at shortstop.
But he’s shown no ill-will toward the move and is saying all of the right things off the field.
“I just look at it as whatever they want me to play I’m going to play,” Newman said. “I’ll work as hard as I can and do my best at that position. Whatever the team needs and wants me to do, I’m willing to do whether that be short, second or center – wherever. I have no problem with it.”
On the field, there’s been no problems with the move either. Newman hasn’t committed an error at second base in eight games at the spot. While just a few feet away, there are some intricacies to the position that make it an adjustment.
“It’s a different position with different reads off the bat,” said Newman, who mentioned the spin of the ball.
At the plate, Newman is hitting a somewhat slim .226 but he does have four multi-hit games, including one on Monday.
He’s been an aggressive hitter at the plate in the past, but the goal this season is to refine that approach ever so slightly.
The aggressiveness? That’s good, says Indianapolis hitting coach Ryan Long.
“But are you attacking what you want to attack,” Long said. “Hone in on your hot zones. That’s been the big focus for him, honing in on his zones. Am I swinging because it’s a fastball, or because it’s a fastball I wanted to hit? That’s the way we try to attack it.”
And once he’s on base or the ball is put in play, Newman is looking to be more aggressive on the base paths. He has two stolen bases this season.
“I’d like to continue to try to steal bases and try to get to second base as much as I can for the guys behind me,” Newman said. “Other than that, just continue to get on base as best as I can and put the people behind me in the best position to succeed.”
Newman’s aggressiveness enabled him to stretch a single into a double during the series against Charlotte. He should have had a soft single to right field, but caught the outfielder coasting to field the ball and stretched the hit into a double.
“I’ve always tried to take extra 90s and that opportunity showed up. I thought I could catch them a little off guard and I did. … It’s right in front of me and I’m running hard, an aggressive turn and as I’m turning I see he’s still not there at the ball and at that point I just said I’m going with it.”
That attitude is something that can get lost in the complexity of the game, Long said.
“The thing we keep stressing It’s easy to get just caught up with the hitting, but most of these guys have the ability to be complete more whole players,” Long said. “‘I might not be able to beat you with my bat tonight. But maybe I can get on somehow and I’ll beat you with my legs. How can I continue to add value to my team?’”
Newman is a career .280 hitter in the minors, so his early-season average is likely more of an outlier than an alarming trend. If he continues to adjust to playing second base and can do so at a high level, he might find his way to Pittsburgh as a utility player or someone who can fill the void at second base long-term.