Pirates Q&A: Kevin Newman’s Upside, Swaggerty in Bradenton, and the 2016 Prep Pitchers

We had a few prospect questions from the Q&A last week. Originally I was going to include them in Friday’s article, but I expanded on the answers here, and figured it would be best for a prospect-only article, which ended up being a pretty long article for just four questions. Here are the responses:

Kevin Newman Questions

Thom – How good is Newman’s defense at 2B? His bat, at this stage, looks a lot like D.J. LeMahieu’s when he was the same age. LeMahieu just landed a nice contract. Is Newman’s glove good enough to take him on that trajectory?

Tim: LeMahieu would probably be the best case outcome for Newman, and the only path I see for him to be a starter. You’ve got a guy whose offensive value is largely built on hitting for average. LeMahieu doesn’t draw a lot of walks, doesn’t hit for a lot of power, but does hit for average consistently and adds some value on the bases.

Defensively, Newman hasn’t played a lot of second base, but I don’t think he’d have an issue handling the position. He’s a good enough defender at shortstop that he probably wouldn’t lose value at the position for his defense. If he had LeMahieu’s offense, he could probably stick at shortstop. If he did move to second base with those numbers, he’d also be fine as a starter.

The issue here is that it’s difficult to match that profile. It’s hard to hit for a consistent .300 average as mostly a singles hitter. And if your average slips, you lose all value, since you don’t have a high OBP or power to make up for the drop in production. This is definitely a possibility for Newman, but it’s not as easy as LeMahieu makes it seem.

clemo83 – There’s been a lot of discussion around Kevin Newman’s disappointing mlb debut. His Seinfeld counterpart, Kevin Kramer, arguably looked even more overmatched, striking out at alarming rates. Given that Kramer was your minor league player of the year, what are we to make of his debut? Some people think his swing adjustment to add power last year were at the root of his mlb strikeout problems. Do you still believe he can be an above average regular?

Tim: I wouldn’t make anything of either debut. I’m still high on Kramer, and still think Newman is a pretty safe bet to be an MLB player, even if I do have questions about his upside as a starter. Very few players enter the majors and do well immediately. Those who do well early usually end up seeing an adjustment period where they struggle.

The only concern I would have would be the short-term. I’m not sure you could trust either player to be your starter in 2019 until they showed they were ready. This doesn’t appear to be an issue with Kramer, since the Pirates are going with Adam Frazier at second base. It is an issue I’ve brought up with shortstop, since the current options are Newman or Erik Gonzalez, with both having question marks due to a lack of big league success.

Other Prospect Questions

JamosLN50 – Has the Ogle / MacGregor / Kranick / Hinsz class’ failure to launch led to a scenario where the Bucs will have to add those guys to the 40-man / leave then open to Rule 5 / allow them to test minor league free agency before they reach the high minors?

Tim: Those were actually two different classes, with Hinsz being in the 2014 class (the same one that produced Mitch Keller) and the others being in the 2016 group.

I’m not going to compare anyone to Keller, but look at his timeline. He was drafted in 2014, struggled in 2015 with control, and finally emerged as a solid pitching prospect in 2016. He then improved to one of the best pitching prospects in the game after 2017.

By comparison, the 2016 draft class all went to Bristol in 2017, and the 2018 season would have been their time for a breakout year. We saw that to varying degrees. Kranick looked good, and I’ve talked with scouts in the past who think he could be the best of the group. MacGregor took a big step forward, but went down with Tommy John at the end of the year and will miss the 2019 season. Ogle’s stuff continued to look good, but he missed most of the year with an injury.

Unfortunately, the theme with this group has been injuries, and they started costing development time this year. That doesn’t close the book on MacGregor or Ogle at all. It just means their timeline will be delayed.

As for concerns about the Rule 5 or minor league free agency, there’s still time before this is a decision that needs to be made. These guys are eligible after the 2020 season, which means MacGregor will get a full season to show what he can do, likely in Bradenton and maybe with a shot at Altoona if he does well. Kranick and Ogle could be in Altoona by that point.

We’ll know by then if they need to be protected for the Rule 5 draft, or if they could be left unprotected safely like what happened with Hinsz this year, despite Hinsz still having good upside. The minor league free agency is a decision that’s further off, but the truth is that if they reach this point and they’re not on the roster, then they would have definitely fallen short of their potential upside.

JamosLN50 – What is the likely 2019 placement and development path for Travis Swaggerty? Can he make Bradenton this season or is that faster than the Bucs generally promote college picks?

Tim: Typically the Pirates send their first round college picks right to Bradenton during their first full season. So I would expect Swaggerty to be in Bradenton on Opening Day, with a shot at Altoona by the middle of the season if he does well.

The Pirates hold younger guys back to give them experience on the same team for a full season, but a mid-season move has become pretty common for the older guys, and even some of the younger guys who have done really well in Bradenton. If I’m making a prediction, it’s that we will see Swaggerty in Altoona by the end of the year. If we don’t, it’s due to injury, or really disappointing results.

There’s reason to push him. He’s the likely replacement for Starling Marte in the future, with Marte under team control through the 2021 season. If Swaggerty can speed through the lower levels, he could have a shot at making it to the majors in the second half of 2020, allowing him to take over for Marte with a seamless transition.

I’d expect Swaggerty in Bradenton at the start of the year, and the Pirates will probably be hoping that he does well right away to allow a faster path to the majors.

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