A Shortstop of the Future Candidate Takes Over For the Best Defensive Shortstop

INDIANAPOLIS — There’s a new everyday shortstop at Triple-A Indianapolis.

Goodbye, Ngoepe. Hello, Newman.

Kevin Newman was promoted to Indianapolis on July 20 and was immediately made the everyday shortstop, the only position he’s played as a professional.

Gift Ngoepe, who spent about five weeks with the Pirates earlier this season, will play a mixture of second base and third base, along with shortstop when Newman is out of the lineup.

One player — the 23-year-old Newman — is seen as the shortstop of the future, showing the ability to hit and play solid defense. The other — the 27-year-old Ngoepe — is a premier defensive shortstop who has shown minimal ability to improve offensively.

Newman has only played shortstop in his career and has a much higher upside. Ngoepe is the better defensive player, but his offensive struggles will severely limit his potential role in the major leagues to late-game defensive replacement.

That adds up to Newman becoming the new everyday shortstop in Indianapolis.

Newman’s First Ten Games in Triple-A

In a small sample size, Newman has held his own at the Triple-A level, hitting .286 with a .636 OPS in ten games. He’s played well defensively, though he doesn’t have the range of a player like Ngoepe.

“He has done nothing coming from Altoona to here to say, ‘This kid is going to struggle,’” Indianapolis hitting coach Butch Wynegar said. “He has made a pretty good adjustment.”

Newman missed two days after taking a foul ball off his shin on July 27, which left a baseball-sized knot on his leg. An x-ray didn’t show any serious problems, but he had to sit to let the swelling go down.

But Newman still gets points for toughness. He took the foul ball off his leg, but singled on the next pitch. He didn’t run well to first base and there was a meeting between Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett and trainer Dru Scott, with slight discussion of Newman staying in the game.

“I told them that I could stay in,” Newman said. “I couldn’t really run, so we made the decision that coming out would be the best call. I definitely try to (play through pain), but there’s a line where you can just kind of hurt yourself if you continue to do that.”

That foul ball off his leg is about all that has slowed down Newman since arriving in Indianapolis, having multiple hits in four of his 10 games. There’s no secret to his success, more a matter of keeping a similar type of mentality as he progresses through each level of the organization.

“It’s the same game — it’s baseball,” Newman said. “Hitters are a little stronger, a little faster. Pitchers are a little better with their location and their stuff. You just have to remember it’s the same game and you have to take it one game at a time.”

But there has been one slight adjustment once arriving in Indianapolis, adjusting his distance from the plate in the batter’s box. Newman appeared to initially struggle reaching pitches on the outside of the plate.

“So, we talked a little bit about if he feels like he’s too far away from the plate,” Wynegar said. “He made an adjustment where he moved a little bit closer and a little bit up in the box and he’s been good ever since.”

Ngoepe’s Offense Struggles

It’s been a few months since Ngoepe has been hitting well, severely struggling offensively since being optioned back to Indianapolis on June 1.

The numbers aren’t pretty.

Ngoepe is hitting .183 (23-for-126) since returning. And he’s digressing, hitting .161 since the start of July with more than two times as many strikeouts (23) as hits (10). Those numbers are bolstered by Ngoepe going 5-for-10 with a double, triple, and home run in his last three games.

“Kind of the same thing we’ve talked about from the get-go,” Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett said “Adopting a different approach where he uses the whole field, shortens the bat up and tries to play pepper instead of taking big swings. He just hasn’t really shown much adjustment in being able to do that.”

Ngoepe had a solid start to the season, hitting .241 in April with Indianapolis. That average isn’t eye-popping, but for what is expected out of Ngoepe not bad.

His biggest attribute is his defensive ability, showing major league range and fielding abilities. He’s had a Sports Center Top-10 play this season, catching a liner while falling backwards. He also made a game-saving play ranging up the middle in the ninth inning, throwing out a runner and preventing the tying runs to score on what would have been a single against most shortstops.

“That will be why he gets called up,” said Larry Broadway, director of minor league operations. “He’s not going to be called up because we want a right hand bat off the bench. Regardless if he’s hitting .290, .310 or .210, he’s going to be called up for defense.”

A Tale of Two Shortstops

The Pirates have two shortstop prospects in Triple-A who can both help at the big league level. That help comes in different forms.

Ngoepe is the better defensive player, but can be a liability offensively for large periods of time with too many strikeouts leading to empty at-bats. He still has a good chance of being promoted later in the season due to being on the 40-man roster. Any help from Ngoepe is going to come from his defense alone.

Newman is simply the future, a player that can defend and hit well. Unless there’s an injury, Newman is solidified at shortstop in Indianapolis for the foreseeable future, and a guy the Pirates are looking at for the future of the position in the majors.

  • And fwiw, Jordy Mercer has been a very fine, under-appreciated, more-than-capable shortstop; time to be Barmes 2 next year.

    • Yeah, but outside of Cutch this line up has no one to fear. Once Cutch is gone they will need the whole line up to produce, no soft spots. I like Mercer against LH pitching, but overall we need a better a bat.

      • Michael Sankovich
        August 3, 2017 3:08 pm

        yep, and you need at least a couple of all star bats to make and then advance in the playoffs. Outside of Cutch, who is that for the Pirates going forward? Marte, Polonco? Doesn’t look like it. Bell? Maybe. At the beginning of the season, top candidates from the system were Newman and Meadows. Both have had disappointing seasons. It’s hard to be optimistic about the Pirates offense for the upcoming seasons.

        • Ok there’s health but I truly believe Polancos got his mojo back. Marte has the shakiest hitting if he can’t get it going platoon him with Meadows or Frazier.

          • what are you smoking…..platoon Marte…..Marte provides more defensive war along than Meadows and Frazier can put together in total WAR in an average year.

        • Id like to see them sign Cutch and trade Cole for position players. I’m comfortable going into next season with Tallion, Kuhl, Williams, Glasnow and Nova. Knowing that Kingham will be closer and Brault can fill in. With Keller not too far behind.

        • I don’t think anyone realistically ever saw newman as being an all-star bat

      • I think the Pirates need someone who can platoon with Mercer maybe that’s something Cole Tucker can do in the future they’ll need to swing a trade in the meantime. I think the entire infield needs more platoon options with Kang gone and above average wrc+ players ie not Gosselin, also taking advantage of having Osuna more often (against stronger RHP Bell against the weaker to mostly maintain his everyday status).

      • Bell……..is pretty fearsome. He has damn near killed a few pitchers, hitters on the on-deck circle, and fans having a beer in basically every part of the outfield.

        • ….and nearly taken a few infielders gloves off with the ball continuing on

        • Good point. I forgot about him, and I think he will get better. Its a shame Bellanger is having the year he is having and over shadowing Bell.

    • I think “more-than-” is an exaggeration. He’s definitely capable. He’s having a very good year for him, yet he’s not quite league average.

  • I have followed this site since almost the beginning…2017 had been a season I had been “calling for” for about 3 years. Thanks to some boneheads, bad luck and bad production…this year stunk. At least the Farm is good to read about.
    Thanks for awesome information!

  • #FreeKevinNewman (with the purchase of one regularly-priced Newman) just doesn’t work.

  • Is Gift’s inability to adjust to a hitting style more suited to his abilities the product of “don’t want to” or “can’t”?

    • I’m leaning toward can’t from what I saw of him in the Majors. He doesn’t recognize pitches well, and he doesn’t have great bat speed, and the combination means he can’t catch up to a decent fastball, and he’ll swing ahead of or over offspeed stuff. His swing is stuck in that narrow window between the two where the ball isn’t.

  • it’s very on, BUT, we may have another fielding gem at Morgantown in Brett Pope. Saw him play this week in two games. He went into the hole behind 3B, backhanded a grounder, jumped in the air (in the same motion) turned and threw a strike to 2B to force the runner on first! He’s got Mercer’s arm but more range, seems to me. Remember that name, Pope.

    • I have mentioned a few times how strong defensively Pope has been. He has made some incredible plays in the games I’ve watched. His bat is the big question mark

  • Not sure why Clint buries Jordy at the 8 spot
    To me he has been one of our better hitters all year and I’m sure hitting 8 isn’t easy.

    • Agree, he has been very consistent which cant be said for most of the starters.

      • consistently mediocre, even though this is a good year for him.

        I have no dislike for Jordy, but to me he is the poster child for settling for “average”. Now the whole lineup is average, except for Cutch. And guess what? The team is average.

    • I think you have this backwards.

      Mercer largely *benefits* from hitting in the 8th spot. His below-average production on balls in play is buoyed by a walk rate inflated by hitting in front of the pitcher. Put him anywhere else in the lineup and the walk rate plummets, taking his OBP with it.

      Now you may still be right that even this diminished version would still be worthy of higher placement relative to the hitters around him, but that’s damning with the faintest of praise.

      • He could bat up against lefties, because he’s a legitimately good hitter against lefties, but I agree, he fits best at 8 for the everyday.

        • The 8 hole gets more walks but not many good pitches to hit. You settle for a walk or you have to swing a lot on things outside the zone to try to drive someone in before the pitcher is up.

  • Looking at the progress this year and last I am beginning to think that Tucker is the SS of the future with Newman moving over to 2B at some point.

    • If they both make it through the system…I agree…and that should probably coincide with about the time Harrison’s contract goes from a guaranteed deal to options.

      I’d guess JH’s option for ’19 gets renewed and he’s traded at the summer deadline with Tucker coming up and Newman sliding over.

    • Yes until one of the Valerio or one of the other Latins arrive, then Tucker moves to 2nd or 3rd.

    • What about Kramer? Does he figure into 2nd? Or is he still suspect?

  • This is good news. Jordy Mercer has had a good year, is a good MLB player but not great. He would be a great bench player if Newman could move to starting role or be a decent trade candidate. Ngoepe has value as well and Cole Tucker is doing well. The Pirates have tough infield decisions to make for next year. I dont think Frazier can play second on a regular basis, Moroff is better but Josh is far superior to both. But Josh is fine at 3rd if Freese moves on or goes to the bench. Bell despite some defensive issues at times has held his own and his bat is a definite plus and should get better. And there are a bunch of questions about the outfield which is a topic for another day.

    • Jordy would be a great bench player but he’s also good enough to start in this league and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have a over 30 power renaissance like Jay Bell did. Jordy is actually 9th in WAR among SS for this year so there are 21 other teams that would love to have him starter. He’s pretty much the Neil Walker of shortstops except for without the back problems. He’s white bread and mayonnaise. Not flashy, not a star, but he also plays hard everyday and doesn’t suck.

      • Doesn’t that to a large degree describe…Kevin Newman?

        • Haha… probably. I have expectations that Newman has better on-base and average ceiling than Mercer.

      • It is hard for me to get excited for a 24 year old in AAA that has an OPS .115 lower than Jordy. Our future shortstop may be in the system just not in AAA.

        • Newman’s ceiling is Jordy Mercer? I couldn’t imagine much more

          • that’s exactly what I’ve been saying. Newman is the next Jordy which is ok….but nothing to get excited about like we all were with Bell (at least I was excited to see him move onto the Pirates).

            • at some point I hope they aim higher than mediocre.

              • Maybe just hope Cole Tucker continues improving on his semi-breakout season or that Alemais or Valerio develop their offensive game or that Acuna starts to rocket through the system next year. Shortstop isn’t the position I’m really worried about for the future. Third and catcher look much bleaker, second too but I assume one of the shortstops will slide over eventually.

              • me too, but lately they haven’t been.

        • Jordy Mercer himself logged a super .689 OPS as a 25 yo in his first 250 PA stint in AAA…

        • I’d say it’s a litter early to call that production his true talent, considering it’s 1) just 43 plate appearances, and 2) his first taste of the level. I’ll put a little more credence in the scouting and his manager saying he looks like he belongs than the numbers with so little data.

          • a lot more then 43 PA’s if you look at this crappy AA season. it isn’t like he earned the promotion here….

      • “He’s pretty much the Neil Walker of shortstops”

        Jordy Mercer has never *once* been worth the value Neil Walker has *averaged* per year.

        They aren’t even close.

        • As far as I can tell, Asdrubal Cabrera is the best candidate for “The Neil Walker of shortstops.”

        • You’re right, Jordy Mercer doesn’t hold the same value as Neil Walker. Maybe I’m reaching on the comp but what I meant was that they were both consistently vanilla. Walker was always a little underrated. In that sense I also think Mercer is a little underrated.

      • I don’t see Mercer getting a power bump the way Bell did…I distrust all those stats of guys who magically discovered the ability to hit homeruns in the late 90s/early 2000s.

        • Well, I doubt Mercer will ever hit anywhere near 38 homers in a season but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he could have a year where he hits 20-25.

        • If you’ve ever actually watched mercer hit NOT in games, you’d realize you are wrong. He has power, a lot of it. The players on the team have actually talked about it in numerous occasions.

          • Hahaha. Let us know when batting practice starts to count.

            • It counts when you are talking about something like “power” since power is simply how far you can hit a ball.

      • He’s actually 11th in WAR if you don’t filter out Turner and Cozart (who each have higher WAR) due to playing time. He’s having a career year and he’s pretty much league average. If you broadened the timeframe to include a reasonably large sample, say, 2015-2017, he’s 21st out of 30.

        I like Jordy, he’s OK, and I’m pleased with his season, but he has no upside remaining. He’s not a building block. I don’t think you’d find even 10 other teams who’d take him as their starter.

        • Fair enough. I just think Jordy has a tendency to be underrated and underappreciated. He’s and dependable and is better than he gets credit for.

      • Neils a better hitter and a much worse defender…..so not the best analogy

        • Ehhh… Neil’s a solid defender. His just doesn’t have very good range. Can we come up with another player than who’s consistently average at everything? He’s not great at anything and doesn’t suck at anything. He’s been good enough to be a starter for half a decade and yet no one outside of the city he plays in knows who he is. When I type that description, I think Neil Walker. How about Nick Markakis? Brandon Belt? Mitch Moreland?

    • Newman is unlikely to be significantly better than Mercer. He will hit for better average, but less power. Mercer will probably be better defensively….

    • Mercer is too pricey to be a bench player, but could move to third and take freese’s place

  • Look out, Gift, there’s a New man in town. Heh heh heh.