COLUMBUS, Ohio — Kevin Newman is one call away from joining the Pirates’ infield. The former first-round draft pick is well aware of that fact. He was drafted 19th overall three years ago and has spent nearly one full season with Class AAA Indianapolis.
He’s also having a breakout season. The 24-year-old is batting .304 with a .735 OPS while playing outstanding defense at both second base and shortstop. However, Newman has no interest in thinking about the next step. Instead, his singular focus is to keep producing for Indianapolis.
The rest, Newman said, will take care of itself.
“I’m sure everybody thinks ahead at times,” Newman, who finished the week on a five-game hitting streak, told DKPittsburghSports.com Saturday night following a 10-4 loss at Huntington Park. “It’s a matter of pulling yourself back and being able to say, ‘I’m here now, let’s do what it takes here to get better, to hopefully get to the next level and perform.’ That all starts here, at Triple-A, with this great team.”
His time could come sooner than later. The Pirates could make veteran players — including Jordy Mercer — available unless they catapult up the Central Division standings before the non-waiver trade deadline July 31. Neal Huntington denied that, saying the Pirates have had conversations about adding to the current roster. Either way, Newman’s time is near. Mercer is in his final season of club control. Plus, his primary backup this season, Sean Rodriguez, is batting .159 with 40 strikeouts in 107 at-bats.
The Pirates promoted Mercer in May 2012 and used him as a backup behind Clint Barmes until he became the every day shortstop the following season. It doesn’t sound like the Pirates are ready to use such a plan with Newman or Indianapolis second baseman Kevin Kramer.
“Are they to a point in time where not playing every day [would not hinder their development] … We’re probably a ways away from that,” Huntington told reporters Sunday afternoon at PNC Park. “We would want to see if we can upgrade this club, and we’d love everybody to hit .300 and be productive with the bat and that would provide us with a really deep lineup, but we also need guys to go handle the ball defensively and continue to be a positive influence.”
On the other hand, Newman has performed well enough to make himself an option for a potential callup. He’s hit 14 doubles with one home run, 16 RBIs and 38 runs. Newman has 403 at-bats since being promoted to Class AAA last July — Mercer had 401 at the time of his promotion six years ago — and he’s capable of playing multiple positions.
Newman, a right-handed hitter ranked by Baseball America as the Pirates’ No. 5 prospect, also has even splits — batting .306 against both lefties and righties — and has been able to adjust to more experienced pitching in Triple-A. It’s in stark contrast to how he performed with Class AA Altoona last season.
Newman was promoted to the Curve in June 2016 and batted .288 the rest of that season, however, he posted a .259 batting average and .310 on-base percentage in Altoona in 2017. The Pirates still promoted him to Indianapolis, and he posted far better numbers in the International League.
“The jump was more refined, experienced players,” he explained. “Players who know how to get you out. Not just pitchers who have stuff they can blow by you. Pitchers here can use their stuff and they know the game, they’re smart. They know how to get you out. You have to refine your approach and face better pitching in terms of location, throwing anything in any count.”
Newman had a .283 average and .688 OPS in 40 games, although he was 2 for 13 in four playoff games. He was also ranked by Baseball America as the organization’s “Best Hitter for Average” this past offseason and went 8 for 26 with four runs and three stolen bases in 14 Grapefruit League games this spring. He wasn’t a candidate for the opening day roster since the club had more experienced, versatile options, including Rodriguez.
Much has changed, though, and Newman attributes his success this season to establishing an identity, which is similar to that of Mercer.
“When I’m at my best I’m hitting low line drives everywhere, getting on for the guys behind me and playing solid defense,” he said. “I don’t try to be a flashy player. I’ll put balls in the gaps, but most importantly, I do everything I can to score for the team. That’s my identity. I want to score runs.”
That’s been his reputation since before the Pirates used their first of two first-round picks on him in 2015. He hasn’t overhauled his swing to create more power, and his approach now is the same it was when he reported to the West Virginia Black Bears in 2015 after signing a contract that included a $2,175,000 signing bonus.
Newman hit .370 with 22 steals in his junior season at the University of Arizona, earning first-team-Pac-12 honors. He became the first player to win consecutive batting titles in the Cape Cod League in 2013-14. Almost everywhere Newman has played, he’s hit for average and consistently scored runs.
So, there’s no way he hasn’t thought about doing that in the majors, right?
“I’m happy with my identity as a player and what I bring to this team and this organization,” Newman. “Like I said, being where my feet are, trying to get better every day. Anything past that, whatever happens, happens.”
• Infielder Kevin Kramer, a second-round pick in 2015, has 14 hits, including three home runs, over his last 10 games, batting .378 during that span. The 24-year-old has raised his average to .272 — he batted only .238 in May — and has 10 home runs with 33 RBIs and 19 walks to 69 strikeouts in 61 games.
Kramer hit a three-run homer Saturday night that went over the roof at hitter-friendly Huntington Park.
• Relievers Tanner Anderson, Johnny Hellweg and Bo Schultz have combined for a 1.42 ERA in 76 innings. Anderson, a 20th-round pick in 2015, has a 1.16 WHIP in 31 innings. Hellweg, a 29-year-old who spent most of last season playing Independent ball, has a 0.94 WHIP in 25 1/3 innings. Schultz missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and has a 1.22 WHIP in 16 1.3 innings.
• Adam Frazier, demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis when Ivan Nova was activated from the disabled list, is 3 for 25 in seven games with the Indians. Jose Osuna, meanwhile, batted .350 with nine RBIs over his past 10 games, walking four times with six strikeouts.
• Newman capped Nick Kingham‘s eight scoreless innings with this diving stop against Toledo on Thursday:
— Indianapolis Indians (@indyindians) June 15, 2018
• First baseman Will Craig, the Pirates’ first-round pick in 2016, homered in four of six games this week and has 11 this season — surpassing the six he hit in 123 games at High-A Bradenton last season. Craig has 50 RBIs and a .834 OPS in 61 games with the Curve.
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) June 17, 2018
• Taylor Hearn, the left-handed starting pitcher acquired from the Nationals in the Mark Melancon trade, matched a career-high with 10 strikeouts in six innings against Binghamton on Thursday. Hearn, 23, has a 1.14 WHIP and 71 strikeouts to 25 walks in 63 innings. He’s also allowed only four home runs in 12 starts.
• Mitch Keller, ranked by Baseball America as the Pirates’ top prospect, walked four and gave up two earned runs in six innings on Wednesday. The 22-year-old has a 1.22 WHIP and 3.25 with 66 strikeouts to 29 walks in 12 starts. Right-handers are batting .186 against him.
• Talk about a throwback:
One of the greatest players in franchise history returns to #CurvePA tonight
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) June 16, 2018
• Right-handed starting pitcher Luis Escobar, the Pirates’ No. 11 prospect according to MLB.com, allowed six earned runs on five hits with four walks in three innings against Florida Thursday. Escobar, 22, has at least three walks in five consecutive starts and 29 on the season with 52 strikeouts. He has a 4.45 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 62 2/3 innings.
• Alfredo Reyes, a 24-year-old second baseman, batted .310 with 10 walks over his past 10 games. Reyes has a .775 OPS with 34 walks and 17 stolen bases in 52 games. He spent all of last season with Bradenton, posting a .584 OPS with 106 strikeouts to only 19 walks.
• Right-handed reliever Blake Weiman, an eighth-round draft pick last June, has a 0.81 WHIP with 41 strikeouts to only three walks in 33 1/3 innings.
WEST VIRGINIA (Low-A)
• Oneil Cruz, a 6-foot-6 19-year-old shortstop, has a nine-game hitting streak, raising his average this season to .303. Cruz, acquired from the Dodgers in the Tony Watson trade last season, has 14 doubles, seven triples, eight home runs, 39 RBIs and a .879 OPS in 63 games.
Cruz went 4 for 5 with two triples, a double, a single and three RBIs in a win Saturday night.
• Right-handed starting pitcher Travis MacGregor, a second-round draft pick in 2016, has a 3.10 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 43 strikeouts to seven walks in 29 innings for the Power.
• Outfielder Calvin Mitchell has only one home run in 50 at-bats this month, however, he has batted .290 with nine hits over his last 10 games. The 19-year-old left-handed hitter has a .320/.383/.513 slash line with seven home runs and 35 RBIs in 61 games.
• Short-season West Virginia had its season opener Friday at Mahoning Valley and will have its home opener Thursday against State College. The Black Bears’ roster includes outfielder Travis Swaggerty, the Pirates’ drop draft pick, as well as starting pitcher Aaron Shortridge, their fourth-round pick, and outfielder Brett Kinneman, their seventh rounder.
• Short-season Bristol will begin its season Tuesday at Greeneville, and its roster will include starting pitcher Shane Baz, the Pirates’ first-round pick from last summer.