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Coach raves about makeup of Bucs' top pick

University of Arizona's Lopez says Newman is a 'quality, quality human being'

PITTSBURGH -- Andy Lopez was on the phone Monday afternoon with Pirates closer Mark Melancon, calling to catch up before the first day of the first Draft in more than 30 years that Lopez didn't truly have to invest himself in.

Lopez retired last month after a 33-year run coaching college baseball. He was Melancon's coach at the University of Arizona a decade ago, and they have remained close. At one point Monday, their conversation turned to Kevin Newman.

Lopez told Melancon all about the Arizona shortstop, who was expected to be his final first-round pick -- how Newman isn't all that flashy but always makes the routine plays in the field, how Newman never strikes out and about Newman's exceptional hand-eye coordination. And one more thing.

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"He's like you: great makeup and a quality, quality human being," Lopez told Melancon, adding later: "I think Pittsburgh will be really happy when they see him on a day-in, day-out basis."

The Bucs must believe the same thing. Pittsburgh selected Newman 19th overall, a big jump for a player who went undrafted out of high school and called that experience "fuel in the fire."

The Pirates like everything they've seen from the 21-year-old shortstop. According to Bucs general manager Neal Huntington, Newman's development from an undrafted prep player into a first-round talent is a testament to his work ethic and the work of Lopez and the staff at Arizona.

Newman's makeup is what stands out to Lopez. He previously coached players like David Eckstein, Mark Ellis and David Ross during his time at the University of Florida, and Lopez said Newman shares many of the same traits.

You could always find Newman out on the field, Lopez said, taking grounders at shortstop and second base. It happened before every Wildcats game for three years.

Video: Bucs' first-round pick excited for opportunity

"His makeup is off the charts, and his work ethic is plus-plus as well," Lopez said.

The work Newman put in at Arizona led to success not only in college, but in the Cape Cod League as well. He won back-to-back batting titles there, the only player to do so in the league's history.

"To go into that atmosphere and that league and do what I did definitely put me on the radar for a lot of teams," Newman said. "It was very beneficial."

Lopez expects the Pirates will find more pop in Newman's bat, too. Arizona preached against strikeouts above all else, so Newman hit with a wide stance and focused mostly on making contact. If the Bucs ask him to close up his stance, more power could emerge.

One thing that won't change, Lopez said, is the character and drive he went out of his way to mention to Melancon.

"He's geared. He's ready. He'll go out and do a good job," Lopez said. "I'm not shocked. I'm happy for him, happy for the Pirates organization, because he's a special young guy. He really is."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.
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