With struggles behind him, Kevin Newman ready to compete for Pirates’ starting shortstop job
BRADENTON, Fla. — Kevin Newman knew there would be a transition to the major leagues and his status as a former first-round draft pick would only add to the expectations.
Newman struggled after being called up last season, but believes that experience has prepared him for the starting shortstop competition this spring training at Pirate City.
“Just getting that time with the teammates up in the big leagues last year, I’m familiar with them now,” he said. “It’s like getting that first awkward few weeks out of the way. I don’t feel like I have to come up and exceed everyone’s expectations. People are more aware of who I am and what I bring to the table, so I can just focus on being me and knowing what I can do.”
Newman knows he can be better than the .209/.247/.231 slash line with two doubles, no home runs and six RBIs he had in 31 games, and the Pirates are counting on it. Starter Jordy Mercer left in free agency, but the Pirates added some pressure on Newman when they traded with Cleveland for Erik Gonzalez.
“I’m just excited to have the opportunity to come in and fight for a job,” Newman said. “It is what it is and we both know, so it’s not like we’ll be walking around on eggshells. That’s part of the game and it’s a great opportunity, so we’ll go out and have some fun and compete.”
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Newman wants to show he’s a more consistent player who hits with more power than he showed last September and live up to the billing of the player who was selected 19th overall out of Arizona in 2015.
“It definitely added to it towards the end of last year, but getting there at the end of last year kind of took that away,” Newman said. “Now, it’s just going out there and playing baseball and doing what I can do.”
Newman hopes to display his quickness in the infield, his hard-nosed approach and ability to grind out at-bats and hit the ball hard. Those traits were more evident in his numbers in 109 games at Triple-A Indianapolis last year, where he slashed .302/.350/.407, with four home runs and 35 RBIs and also had 28 stolen bases.
Despite his struggles, Newman says his time with the Pirates last season was invaluable and it motivated him to be one of the first position players to show up to spring training this year.
“It was huge,” Newman said. “Getting up there and getting acclimated to the big-league life and schedules and stadiums — the pitchers, batters, everything — it really helped to get that under the belt. I kind of know what it’s like going into this year. Facing those teams at the end of the year that were all in it, all competing for playoff spots, we were seeing their best every day. To go against them and see what that was like was really beneficial.
“It’s hard to say one thing. As a whole, it’s a better game. It’s the most talented players in the world. Everyone’s a little better. Everyone’s a little faster, a little stronger. It’s definitely going to benefit, going up there last year. If I can start this year on the roster, definitely a clean slate and take what I was able to do at the end of last year when I kind of figured it out and take that into this year. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .