BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates don't think they saw the real Kevin Newman late last season.It wasn't just Newman's .209 batting average that seemed out of character, although it was well below his career .288 mark in the Minors. Newman said he lost 15 pounds over the course of the
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates don't think they saw the real Kevin Newman late last season.
It wasn't just Newman's .209 batting average that seemed out of character, although it was well below his career .288 mark in the Minors. Newman said he lost 15 pounds over the course of the Triple-A season, so by the time he debuted in Pittsburgh on Aug. 16, he was trying to play at the game's highest level without his usual strength and speed.
"That's one of the hard learning curves you have as a young player," manager Clint Hurdle said. "You go through all that, then OK, come on up and now play when there's a lot on the line and you're possibly not at your strongest. There was a lot for him to have experienced and learned.":: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
Newman won't use that as an excuse for his rough introduction to the Majors, of course. Nobody even mentioned it publicly until this year. But the Pirates are excited to watch the real Newman compete for their starting shortstop job in Spring Training.
"He's a different guy this spring than we saw last September," general manager Neal Huntington said.
Newman attended the Pirates' voluntary minicamp in January and reported early for Spring Training. The 25-year-old worked out at Pirate City on Thursday morning, fielding grounders at shortstop alongside fellow prospect and former first-round Draft pick Cole Tucker.
Unless they make another acquisition, the Pirates will choose either Newman or former Indians utility infielder Erik González to be their regular shortstop this season. Whoever doesn't win the job still could crack the Opening Day roster as a backup middle infielder. Pittsburgh officials have spoken highly of Gonzalez, but there's a reason they drafted Newman as the 19th overall selection in 2015.
"I can't ask for anything more," Newman said. "I'm ready for it. I'm excited for it. It'll be fun."
And it might be easier for Newman now that he's at full strength. Many players lose some weight during the season, but he's listed at an even six feet and 180 pounds, and he's not much of a power hitter to begin with. The drop affected the kind of contact he made and his quickness in the field. According to Statcast™, his average exit velocity of 83.7 mph in the Majors ranked 424th out of the 454 hitters who put at least 60 balls in play last season.
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On top of all that, Newman was facing the toughest competition he'd ever faced. He slashed just .209/.247/.231 in 97 plate appearances after batting .302/.350/.407 in 109 games for Triple-A Indianapolis, and he wasn't quite the same steady defender who had been compared to former Pittsburgh shortstop Jordy Mercer.
"I look at last season like a learning experience," he said. "It was definitely nice to get up to the big leagues and kind of get acclimated to the atmosphere and the overall pace of play, get some at-bats under my belt, see the big stadiums [and] stuff like that. Toward the end, I started to figure it out. Definitely going to help me going into this year."
Hurdle said Newman is now in "the best physical condition I've seen him in since he's been a Pirate." He worked this winter to regain the weight he lost and consulted with Allison Maurer, the Pirates' director of sports nutrition and fueling. He's already thinking about how to maintain his current condition throughout the season so there won't be a repeat of last September.
"Yeah, he got punched. However, he's always been resilient," Hurdle said. "I think we were able to close out the season in a good place on what was learned, the speed of the game, the level of talent, what he's able to bring and how it's able to fit.
"He looks good, and it's a fresh start. There's a lot to be said for that."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.