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Pirates expect better Kevin Newman for spring training | TribLIVE.com
Pirates/MLB

Pirates expect better Kevin Newman for spring training

Chris Adamski
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Kevin Newman turns a double play next to the Braves’ Adam Duvall during the seventh inning Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, at PNC Park.

Kevin Newman’s baptism into the majors was less than inspiring for fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

After fans watched Newman post a .209 average and .478 OPS with 23 strikeouts, no stolen bases and underwhelming defense in 31 games over seven weeks, many wondered if he was just another overhyped Pirates prospect.

Management insists, however, Newman is not the next Midre Cummings, Chad Hermansen or Chase D’Arnaud. Newman, the Pirates say, will be a far better major leaguer than what he showed in his late-season audition last year.

“The guy you saw in September is not the guy we were excited about to take in the first round,” general manager Neal Huntington said last week at PiratesFest. “The man was out of gas and down about 10 pounds. He’s back strong and back healthy. He’s going to be able to drive the ball better than he did last September.”

After managing just two extra-base hits in 97 plate appearances for the Pirates, Newman needs better production to stick around.

Newman never will be a power-bat — he has 15 home runs in 1,600 minor-league at-bats — but he had 73 extra-base hits over his final 946 minor-league at-bats. That shows there is some credence to Huntington’s assertion Newman has a bit of playable pop.

The 19th pick of the 2015 draft, Newman has ranked among the organization’s top prospects ever since. MLB Pipeline ranked him No. 59 among MLB prospects in 2017. He hit .302 with a .757 OPS and a solid contact rate last season for Triple-A Indianapolis.

With the offseason departure of longtime Pirates starting shortstop Jordy Mercer, it seems — barring a disastrous spring training — Newman is all but assured a spot on this season’s 25-man roster.

Newman is penciled in as the backup to Erik Gonzalez, whom the Pirates acquired in a trade from the Cleveland Indians in November. Gonzalez, 27, is entering his third full MLB season, so it’s too early to call Newman an heir apparent, but he will be afforded an opportunity for playing time.

“What you have in Newman is what you had in Jordy Mercer six years ago, a young, sure-handed, dependable guy that when he gets a glove on it, you’re out.” manager Clint Hurdle said, noting Mercer took a year of apprenticeship under veteran Clint Barmes.

Some observers indicated the Pirates were still searching for their starting shortstop and went as far as putting the team in the Manny Machado sweepstakes. Hurdle insisted they have their men at the position and that he “is not going to worry” about who he pencils in there.

“I am not going to get to keep my eyes on the shortstops,” Hurdle said, “because Newman is going to be a different cat when he comes in spring training than he was in September, and I am really looking forward to seeing Gonzalez play baseball.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.