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Newman gets reps at second base for Bucs

Club's No. 7 prospect navigates another path to playing time
MLB.com @adamdberry

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Kevin Newman might look a little different this spring. It's his second year in big league camp, so he has a better idea of where to be and what to do. He put on about five pounds of muscle during the offseason, part of his preparation for a third full professional season. And he's occasionally lining up on the other side of the infield.

Newman, the Pirates' first-round Draft pick in 2015, is adding second base to his resume. The 24-year-old started at second in a 4-3 loss to the Red Sox on Wednesday in Grapefruit League action at JetBlue Park, where he went 1-for-2 with a double and made a sharp, diving play. He's played four games this spring -- two at shortstop and two at second base.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Kevin Newman might look a little different this spring. It's his second year in big league camp, so he has a better idea of where to be and what to do. He put on about five pounds of muscle during the offseason, part of his preparation for a third full professional season. And he's occasionally lining up on the other side of the infield.

Newman, the Pirates' first-round Draft pick in 2015, is adding second base to his resume. The 24-year-old started at second in a 4-3 loss to the Red Sox on Wednesday in Grapefruit League action at JetBlue Park, where he went 1-for-2 with a double and made a sharp, diving play. He's played four games this spring -- two at shortstop and two at second base.

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It's a new look for Newman. The last time he played anywhere other than shortstop, he figured, was when he played a couple games at third base during his sophomore year of high school. But Newman, ranked as the club's No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline, is perfectly comfortable with the added responsibilities.

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"At the end of the day, whatever helps this team win," Newman said. "If that's what they want me to do, then I'm fine with that."

That looked to be the case in the second inning on Wednesday. Red Sox right fielder Jeremy Barfield smacked a hard ground ball off right-hander Chad Kuhl, but Newman laid out to his left, gloved the ball and fired it to first baseman Josh Bell for the second out.

"Awesome," Kuhl said.

Newman has played exclusively shortstop in the Minors since the Pirates selected him 19th overall out of the University of Arizona in 2015. But with Newman set to start the season in Triple-A after playing 40 games there last year, it makes sense for the club to give him another path to playing time.

"It's adding versatility. It's giving him another option, if something happens, where he's not just a shortstop," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Shortstops don't get hurt all year? There's nowhere for him to play. Something else happens where we move one of our utility players, or one of our guys that's playing second base has to go full-time here or full-time there, it opens up another avenue for him.

"It's not going to hurt him at all. I think it'll help."

The Pirates aren't exactly hurting for shortstops, either. The starting position still belongs to Jordy Mercer, who has played at least 145 games in three of the last four seasons. Behind Newman is Cole Tucker, the club's No. 5 prospect who is bound for Double-A after his first big league camp. Behind them are prospects Stephen Alemais (No. 20) and Adrian Valerio.

But Newman is not focused on his big league future yet. After a stellar 2016 season, his offensive production dipped to a .267/.311/.363 slash line between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis.

"You can always improve everywhere. There's no part of my game that's good enough to say I'm complacent with it," Newman said. "Getting to that next level, it was nice to see the competition that comes with Triple-A. Everything can get better -- baserunning, hitting, defense, it can all improve."

Standing in front of his locker at LECOM Park, Newman repeatedly stressed his desire to keep his head down and soak up knowledge from coaches and veterans. In that regard, he hasn't changed a bit.

"In terms of learning and trying to get better, it's no different than it was last year," he said. "Just trying to take in as much as I can and learn as much as I can with my eyes and ears."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Kevin Newman