Jamie Gatlin | June 21st, 2019
Coming into the 2019 season Kevin Newman had a lot to prove to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Newman made his MLB debut last year but struggled mightily at the plate. In ninety-one at-bats the former first-round pick hit .209 with little power. While it is not uncommon for rookies to struggle it was not what the Pirates were hoping for with their infield in flux. After an unimpressive spring training camp, the California native entered the season as a bench player. That, however, seems like a distant memory as this season he has been one of the Pirates best players.
Two months ago shortstop seemed like a position destined for prized prospect Cole Tucker. Although Tucker got a chance early this year, he struggled in his first taste of major league action. In thirty games Tucker hit .196 with an OBP of .240. Tucker did play very well defensively, but his lack of offense opened up the door for Newman.
Since becoming a starter, Newman has done nothing but hit. In 158 at-bats the former first-round pick is batting .316. His slugging percentage and OPS are also two hundred points higher than last season. As a result, he has become the Pirates new leadoff hitter in place of Adam Frazier. Newman does not hit for much power but uses his speed to get on base. He has shown good plate discipline from the top of the lineup as he has only struck out twenty-four times.
Additionally, Newman brings value as he can play in different positions. So far this year he has seen time at second, third, short, and the outfield allowing Clint Hurdle to keep his bat in the lineup. Newman has shown that he can make adjustments, which is evident in his decreased strikeout rate. At times he has displayed a little power as fourteen of his fifty hits has gone for extra bases. For the Pirates, it has been welcoming surprise on a team currently seven games under five hundred.
Along with Bryan Reynolds, the Pirates surprisingly have one of the best rookie tandems in baseball. Newman is seemingly only getting better as the season progresses. In his last seven games, the California native is hitting .344 with four runs batted in. He seems unfazed by hitting atop of the lineup where he has excelled. As a result, he has a firm grip on a job he failed to seize in Spring Training.
For Newman, the key will be to continue his current play. He does not need to be a power hitter as he has been a perfect sparkplug. Newman is not known for his defense however, he has only committed three errors this year. As the Pirates build for the future this is his chance to prove he can be a key piece. The season is far from over but Newman has been one of the few bright spots for Pittsburgh so far.
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