Kevin Newman: From Top Prospect to Prospect Seat Warmer

3-17-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

First of all, Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m a mutt so of course I have some Irish in me.

Kevin Newman is many things to the Pirates.

He’s a first round pick, a terrific defender and notoriously the negative launch angle leader on this club for 3 seasons running. He’s a cautionary tale of believing all the can’t miss you see in a system too.

Unquestionably popular in the clubhouse, Kevin is easy to root for, even if he’s largely become the guy who’s standing there keeping a spot warm for any of a number of guys standing right behind him with their own set of pedigree and “can’t miss” results in the minor leagues.

It’s not like this is new. All through his road to the show Kevin was in a double play combo with another top prospect Kevin Kramer. Newman was supposed to be the superior prospect but Kramer often stole the spotlight with his bat, until he didn’t.

Cole Tucker was supposed to be the next to unseat him, until he got a crack at it and proved he was neither an offensive or defensive upgrade.

Now he has the club’s most exciting offensive talent waiting in the wings in the form of Oneil Cruz and Liover Peguero right behind him. Diego Castillo has caught his share of buzz as well along with a finally blossoming Ji-hwan Bae. I didn’t even mention Ben Cherington’s man crush Tucapita Marcano.

Point is, Kevin Newman has been written off from the time he debuted and rightly so.

See, Kev had a really nice year in 2019 after a disastrous cup of coffee in 2018 that nearly cost him another shot to begin with. In fact his 2018 showing shook the trust the organization had in him so deeply they felt the need to go get Erik Gonzalez from Cleveland heading into the season.

Erik would win the starting job in Spring and an injury to Gonzalez after colliding with Starling Marte would cause Cole Tucker and Bryan Reynolds to be called up on an emergency basis as Newman was himself on the shelf.

Once healthy, he got back in and eventually wrestled the job away from Tucker. He went on to put together a solid rookie campaign hitting .308 with an OPS of .800 with 20 doubles and 12 homeruns.

All that positivity had a couple numbers that to this day hold Newman back. I’ll start with OBP. Even in 2019 with that decent season his OBP was only .353. It’s hard for me to describe how difficult it is to hit .308 and only have an OBP of .353.

Kevin doesn’t strike out much, but he doesn’t walk much either. To give you some perspective, Daniel Vogelbach hit .219 last season with an OBP of .349.

In fact his contact numbers which are legitimately very good, don’t add up to much more than that low strikeout total. In other words, even if he struck out a bit more but it led to more walks Kevin becomes a much more viable player.

As it stands believe it or not he’s a career 2.0 WAR player on a team that doesn’t have many on the plus side so it makes total sense he’s still getting an opportunity this season.

This team desperately needs a leadoff hitter, and while it looks like they were happy with Ke’Bryan Hayes up there, let’s be honest, it would be much better for this team if his bat were in the middle where it belongs. Kevin with his speed could really increase his value if he could only get that OBP where it needs to be.

Thing is, you can’t just cherry pick his one good year and base his work on that. He’s never even cracked .300 for OBP in another single season. In fact you have to go all the way back to 2016 where he split time in High A and AA to see an OBP better than his 2019 at .389.

The point of all this is really to say, Newman isn’t as bad as he get’s portrayed, but he’s also more than an adjustment away from being an answer.

I’m just as guilty of believing he has something else to give as many of you are that he should have been non tendered instead of taken to arbitration.

Chances are, this is the last season we see Kevin Newman at least as a starter here in Pittsburgh, but do let him serve as a reminder that not all prospects reach their ceiling, sometimes they just kinda exist for a while a little above the replacement level while nobody talented enough is there to push them aside.

That time is coming to an end, and it could very well spell the end for Newman’s time here. Even if he puts it together the writing is likely on the wall as is his probable ability to change the discourse in the first place.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

One thought on “Kevin Newman: From Top Prospect to Prospect Seat Warmer

  1. Definitely a cautionary tale at this position all century for the Pirates, who were lucky Mercer and especially Wilson panned out how they did. And it’s certainly not the only position in that category.

    To be fair to Tucker, many could (and did) argue he was a better defender until a defensive breakout by Newman in 2021. I’m not sure more than a few insiders saw him becoming a Gold Glove candidate. I’ll always wonder why in a cat’s nine lives they suddenly tossed Tucker in the outfield after playing nothing but SS in the minors.

    You are absolutely spot-on about the hitting. It basically amounts to launch angle and being more selective, both major adjustments that I’m not sure many 29-year-olds have made. I’m obviously not thinking of remotely close to the same universe of power, but Jose Bautista was one of the few to do that, so it’s faintly possible.

    Liked by 1 person

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