As I have written, and spoke about multiple times before on Gary Morgan’s Fan Forum-DK Pittsburgh Sports, as well as my own Bucs In The Basement Podcast, I wasn’t completely fooled by Kevin Newman’s Spring Training explosion because of the sheer numbers. Obviously, posting a slash line of .606/.641/.788 with six doubles and zero strikeouts are eye popping statistics, but for me it was about the consistent approach at the plate, along with what seemed to be new and improved swing-where he kept his hands low as to provide elevation to a usually ground pounding approach.
Unfortunately for Newman, this pattern of success did not follow him into the regular season, at least as far as his hitting is concerned; even after he received a few days off in April to put in some batting cage work, in an attempt to get back on track. To date he has posted a .208 AVG, with 2 homers and a total of 10 extra base hits, while maintaining an astronomically low 6.5% strike out rate; as the type of contact, not actually making contact itself remains the problem.
For nearly 80 games now, his now common struggles have been in your face undeniable, and downright embarrassing at times; especially when Erik Gonzalez takes your normal leadoff spot against lefties, like he did on Adam Frazier’s day off to start the series with Rockies.
Luckily, to this point his play in the field has been the only thing that has made it somewhat bearable as his 6 OAA is good enough for a top five spot in all of Major League Baseball and his 3 DRS is a career best. Nevertheless, considering his overall value (-.1 WAR and 0.0 fWAR) and his performance at the plate-which is right in line with the likes of Phillip Evans, Michael Perez and Ka’ai Tom-it is hard to allow Newman a free pass, and a regular spot in the lineup, as we call for these players to be DFA’d; not that this is what I am suggesting for Newman. However, a decision is on the horizon with his first year of arbitration coming next season. Until then, what exactly are the Pirates, Ben Cherington and Derek Shelton supposed to do, and more importantly what how are they going to address the position in the future?
Well, for now, the aforementioned Young Freddy Galvis (AKA Erik Gonzalez) has a higher batting average (.231), but a lower overall value (-.4 WAR and -.6 fWAR), which clearly isn’t an upgrade. Then you have a conglomeration of Cole Tucker, Kevin Kramer and Wilmer Difo; none of whom are exactly lighting up Indianapolis, with Difo as the only one that had provided any consistency with the bat at Big League Level. Yet, once again his -.2 fWAR and -.5 WAR would not be an improvement over Newman; plus he hasn’t played shortstop consistently since 2017.
Next in line is the shortstop, 6’7 Oneil Cruz, that everyone immediately want to put into right field, because you know, Polanco; with the ultimate plan of Liover Pegeuro being the man who will fill the position for years to come. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…young, up and coming shortstop-or pick any position-is the future; always putting the emphasis on one guy at each position. How has that worked out? See Neal Huntingon’s tenure and the current state of the Pittsburgh Pirates at the MLB and AAA levels. Now don’t get me wrong, I really like Pegeuro, and his .282 AVG, .808 OPS and 5 homers at the age of 20 in High A. Still, it’s High A, and a lot can happen between now and then; additionally I really don’t see anyone harping on his 13 errors in 31 games, but Cruz’s 12 in 41 games in Altoona really seems to be a problem. Also, remember that tear Cruz was just on; he is now 2 for his last 17. So, maybe Cherington was right about those 300 at bats, and wasn’t really holding him back; but just waiting to see how he he would push back against another inevitable slump, because everybody has them.
So, please tell me where this can’t miss shortstop of the future is? Sure, it’s nice to have Nick Gonzales available along with Pegeuro in Greensboro, but also remember 2018 when Newman and Kramer were a force to be reckoned with in Indianapolis; both hitting above .300, as Kramer crushed 15 home runs on the year.
Now, before you question the choice of Kevin Newman at 19th overall in 2015-which is something I have seen circling social media again-think about a guy with back to back Cape Cod League batting titles, and a MVP to go with it. Wouldn’t you be happy to have that caliber of player in your system? If you recall, at the time we all were. That was, up until a few weeks ago; where the Pirates current state is having an array of soft hitting shortstops, who can field, their next best hope being worked out in the outfield and the supposed heir at the position a full three levels away.
So, please tell me again where there is actual depth at the position, and why we shouldn’t trade for or draft another shortstop. Honestly, I want to know.