Kevin Newman’s Path to a Starting Job, and How He’s Adjusting His Swing to Get There

BRADENTON, Fla. – Kevin Newman is probably one of the safest prospects in the system in terms of potentially making the majors and sticking in some form. That’s a huge accomplishment, since only about 1% of players from the amateur ranks even reach the majors.

But reaching the majors isn’t Newman’s full upside. He’s got the upside of a starting shortstop, with the defensive skills to stick at the position and not provide negative value. To get to that upside, he’s going to need to improve his offense, specifically his hard contact.

Newman hit for a .302/.350/.407 line last year in Triple-A. He arrived in the majors and didn’t have nearly the same success. Part of that has been chalked up to him losing weight by the end of the year. But Newman’s offensive profile has been concerning.

He’s mostly been a singles hitter with a low walk rate. The walk rate improved last year, but not enough to counter the total lack of power. Newman is never going to be a big home run guy, and might not even be a home run guy at all. If he can be a line drive hitter to the gaps though, he could be a good leadoff hitter.

Here’s a video I took of Newman in batting practice last year during mini-camp. You can see that the swing is smooth and effortless, but the impact isn’t that strong.

Now here’s a video one year later during mini-camp this year. Newman looks stronger and in better physical shape. He’s also making harder contact, which is probably in part due to the physical changes, but also due to a better swing.

Finally, here’s Newman at the start of Spring Training this year, once again looking better in terms of power.

This version of Newman could be a starter in the majors if he can carry that over to games. He looks massively improved over a year ago around this time. So what changed?

Part of the change has been mechanical. Newman is bringing his hands closer to his body and taking a bigger stride to get a bit more behind the ball. The hand placement brings his elbow in, and leads to a quicker swing. The positioning and stride also allows him to generate more power from his hips and lower half.

“Definitely using the hips a little more,” Newman said. “That’s something that [hitting coach Rick Eckstein] and I have talked about quite a bit. Just always trying to tap into that lower half strength as much as we can.”

The Pirates have been implementing new hitting technology, along with catching up on applying their analytics to the game in a more modern way. That has been led by new hitting coaches Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz. So it’s no surprise that Eckstein started immediately working with Newman on some changes to add more power to his game.

“Rick, when he came in, [generating power from the lower half] was the first thing he said,” Newman said. “He watched a lot of video on me prior to meeting me. I met him in Florida for the camp. That was kind of the first thing that we talked about. So I took that back home, and for the rest of the offseason I continued to work on that. It’s definitely translated and helped quite a bit in terms of power without trying to have more power. It’s definitely been a good move.”

Assistant hitting coach Jacob Cruz broke down the changes and how they work for Newman.

“With Newman, landing on that front side and having that energy generate up into angular velocity, as far as how fast his hips can turn, which relates to bat speed, is one of the things we talked about early with him,” Cruz said. “There’s so much more in Newman. It’s just getting it out of him now. I think he’s understanding his body, how it’s moving, and he’s kind of just growing into some weight and becoming a man. All of those things start adding up. We should see the player that they drafted as a first rounder.”

Cruz also broke down the reasoning behind Newman’s adjustments.

“He tried to simplify the swing. Obviously when you’ve got 95 MPH coming at you, you just can’t have a whole lot of excess movement, and you can’t have excess slack and length on the backside of the swing. You try to eliminate all of these things, and yet produce a swing that still allows him to get the ball in the air. That’s been the main focus with him. He’s really shown some improvement in batting practice, trying to take it into games.”

The key thing here is carrying all of these transitions over to the games. The results haven’t been there early in Spring Training games, but Newman is trying to take the same approach to the field.

“Being more aggressive, trying to get my swing off, and more intentful swings,” Newman said of his approach. “It’s gone well. Baseball is a continuous working project. You never just settle on one thing, because pitchers change over time, you’ve got to change over time. It’s always just a game of adjustments. Right now, that’s just an adjustment I’m making.”

Newman hasn’t made any adjustments to his contact point, although he has focused on trying to hit it harder, which has led to better results.

“That’s where I think we’ve gotten to a more consistent contact point, and maybe some more pop off the bat,” Newman said. “I haven’t tried to change the trajectory of my swing, or try to hit the ball in the air more.”

Newman is currently competing with Erik Gonzalez for the starting shortstop job, and the battle is wide open at the moment. He should make the majors in some form, either as a bench infielder or a starter. His path to a starting job will largely be influenced by his offense, and can only be helped if he can carry this new approach over to games.




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