Heading into the 2016 season, it was safe to say that Kevin Newman was flying under the prospect radar a bit. The Pirates 2015 first-rounder did not make the cut for the respective top prospect lists of Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels’s Minor League Ball, or our team. Newman was ranked fourth in the team’s system by BP, and eighth by both Sickels and our team. He wasn’t viewed as a non-prospect, or anything of that nature - rather, his ability to stick at short and lack of even fringe average power held him back. Here is what Michael Schwarz had to say about Newman on our list:
After selecting prep shortstop Cole Tucker in the first round of the 2014 draft, the Pirates continued to stock their middle infield when they made Kevin Newman their top pick in 2015. In his brief professional debut, Newman struggled with the Morgantown-based West Virginia Black Bears of the New York-Penn League (.226/.281/.340), but the trip downstate to Charleston and the West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic League produced better results (.306/.376/.367). A standout at the University of Arizona, Newman earned praise for his excellent makeup and above-average hit tool, the latter of which he displayed by twice winning the Cape Cod League batting title. Despite average speed, he also has shown signs that he could become a capable basestealer. That, coupled with his high batting average, completes his offensive profile, for there is no reason to expect anything more than an occasional home run. Still, if he finds his way to the top of a strong major-league lineup, he could produce solid-if-unspectacular numbers and become a useful middle infielder in fantasy leagues.
All that being said, Newman was considered an elite prospect by ESPN’s Keith Law, placing 23rd on his preseason top-hundred ... and it seems as though Mr. Law was onto something.
Newman started his season at High-A Bradenton, and made short work of the league. In 41 games (189 PA) he batted .366/.428/.494 with 3 HR, 4 SB, and more walks (17) than strikeouts (15). He reached base in 37 of those games, including 19 multi-hit efforts. Newman had a bit of a scare on May 26, when an errant pitch struck him in the eye, fracturing an orbital, but he returned to the lineup less than three weeks later without missing a beat, and earned a promotion to Double-A shortly thereafter - where he went 2 for 5 with 2 R and 2 RBI in his first game.
And it has been more of the same since then. In 16 games at this new level, Newman is batting .323/.384/.415; he has yet to homer, but he has 4 SB, and has continued to walk more than he strikes out. He has reached base in 15 of those games, and is currently on a 14 game hitting streak - and he’s reached base at least twice in each of his last seven games (without a single strikeout).
Why, then, is Newman a bit lost in the sauce? I suspect that it has quite a bit to do with the simple fact that there are so many elite shortstop prospects in the minors right now - J.P. Crawford, Alex Bregman, Brendan Rogers, Orlando Arcia, and Dansby Swanson all made the top-ten of BP’s midseason top-fifty, and Trea Turner (a similar prospect) is still kicking around. And, in fantasy terms, Newman does feel a bit like a player that is far more valuable in the real world.
Regardless, Newman’s hit tool is nothing short of elite. BP evaluator Steve Givarz recently labeled the 22-year-old as one of the best pure hitters he has ever seen (and also stated that he should be able to stick at shortstop). The lack of power remains a concern, but he can flat out hit otherwise, and he has the ability to steal 20-plus bases regularly. For those of you that appreciate comps, I cannot help but think of a speedier Martin Prado (a career .293/.341/.423 hitter) - and that’s a heck of a player.