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The small world of professional baseball takes on special meaning for players straight out of the draft, with the ink still fresh on their first pro contracts.

For some, it’s their first extended amount of time away from home, and their first taste of taking care of themselves. They have new experiences each day. They must learn new routines and take in plenty in a short amount of time. It can be a challenge for a teenager just out of high school or a 20-plus-year-old who finished his final college season just weeks prior.

Pittsburgh Pirates first-round pick Kevin Newman is currently in the midst of these new experiences. After getting chosen 19th-overall out of Arizona in June, he has eclipsed the 50-game mark as a pro shortstop between the Pirates’ two West Virginia affiliates. Only a handful of minor league games remain, then it’ll likely be fall instructs.

Newman carries himself like a veteran on and off the field. He displays a quiet confidence, whether it’s in the box, at shortstop, or talking in the dugout before batting practice on a hot summer afternoon. Much of that confidence is natural for a player who has succeeded at every stop baseball has had to offer so far. There’s also a sense of family and comfort in Pittsburgh’s farm system, especially at Low-A West Virginia, that helps provide stability to young players like Newman.

“That’s the Pirate Way,” West Virginia manager Brian Esposito said. “At every level you go to, you’ll see a tight-knit group of guys. You’ll see a clubhouse that’s never divided. These guys are always competing with each other, always getting each other’s backs no matter if it’s on or off the field. They’re always pushing each other to get better on and off the field. It’s no surprise that we went out and drafted those guys who are able to adapt and treat each other the way they would treat their own family.”

The Power, who dominated the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division in the second half and currently have the best record in the league, are a prime example of the Pirates’ family atmosphere.

Newman and West Virginia first baseman Connor Joe were teammates at Poway High School in California. Joe, a year older than Newman at 23, was drafted 39th-overall out of San Diego in 2014. He’s also going through his first pro season and has been with the Power all year. He has used his experiences to help Newman find his routine.

“Right when I got here, Connor and I talked a little bit, got caught up, and he’s helped me out a lot with getting me comfortable to the routine here,” Newman said. “He’s been real good. We picked up where we left off.”

Newman now has another familiar face alongside him in the infield, and if the Pirates have their way, the two could be side by side through their development. Second baseman Kevin Kramer, drafted one round after Newman, recently joined West Virginia as Newman’s double play partner. The two played against each other while in school at UCLA and Arizona, respectively. Kramer’s Bruins swept Newman’s Wildcats over both three-game series in which they played between 2013-15.

Newman said they talked some on the field during those college games, but the real interaction began when they had to learn each other’s moves around the bag as pro infielders.

“We’re still learning each other’s tendencies and knowing where each one of us is at on certain ground balls,” Newman said. “That stuff comes with time. The brief time we’ve had with each other up the middle, we’ve made the most of it. We’re kind of learning each other’s paths and where we are at all times.”

The familiar faces don’t end there for Newman. Pirates 2014 24th-overall pick Cole Tucker was an Arizona commit while Newman was with the Wildcats, and the two got to know each other during Tucker’s official visit. They’ve become good friends since, and they’re now working through the same system at the same position. Tucker was West Virginia’s shortstop for most of this year until suffering a torn labrum in his right shoulder that recently required surgery. Newman now holds down the spot for the Power.

Quantifying familiarity and comfort within a Low-A clubhouse might be impossible, but it offers new Pirates prospects a chance to work under less pressure, and it can ease the tension of being away from home and experiencing first-time struggles. Newman said he has felt that sense of comfort.

Newman hasn’t taken off yet as a pro, but the skill set is obvious in many ways. He has an advanced feel for hitting and plus barrel control that project for a plus hit tool. He sprays the ball to all fields with the same clean, compact stroke. He has a well-developed feel for the strike zone and is capable of laying off quality pitches away while taking advantage of stuff on the plate. It’s a high-quality mix that will produce a plus hitter.

“That’s something I pride myself on, just having a short swing, not trying to do too much,” he said. “I try to hit the ball everywhere and be a tough out.”

Power just isn’t part of Newman’s game. He doesn’t settle for contact or chop at velocity to put it in play, but his swing simply isn’t geared for more than occasional gap power and a 30 future tool. He has a wide stance and keeps his hands low and quiet to control them through the zone. This helps produce excellent contact rates but sacrifices power. Newman will run into the occasional gap shot and should produce solid doubles numbers as he develops.

Instincts take over the rest of his profile. He has plus speed with plus baserunning ability based on a feel for the game. There have been questions surrounding his ability to stick at shortstop long-term, but he shows the hands, arm, and actions to remain at the position. The hands are soft and help carry his shortstop value. There isn’t a ton of lateral range, especially to his right, but he reads the ball extremely well and has solid first-step quickness. His arm lacks above-average carry from the hole, but he gets rid of it quickly, makes accurate throws and projects for an average arm at shortstop. It could be a case where the Pirates see him as a better fit at second base down the road, but they should let him stay at shortstop as long as possible. It’s an average defensive profile for the position, with the chance for possibly more.

One of the biggest advantages for Newman is his makeup, which is an easy plus. He’s smart, prepares himself each day and shows excellent instincts. Those are three things every team desires from its shortstop position.

“He communicates well,” Esposito said. “He has a good IQ, can recognize things going on out on the field. If he doesn’t understand something, he has his mind in the right place, because he’s going to ask to make sure he gets it right. There’s clarity in what he does. Good work ethic, but he understands what he’s doing, and that’s half the battle. He goes out and does his business the right way. He works hard and does what he needs to do.”

The Pirates made a great pick to get Newman at 19th-overall. He’s going to hit and give his team quality defense while offering excellent instincts on the field and a great baseball IQ at an up-the-middle position. The ceiling is an above-average shortstop with first-division years sprinkled in his prime. The floor is a utility infielder with speed and a soft glove. Find a middle ground and the Pirates get an average regular at shortstop with the ability to make his tools play up.

Newman is still one of the new kids in the Pirates system, but he’s already making his presence felt on and off the field in a positive way. The Pirate Way, as Esposito explained, is quickly producing a leader in the 22-year-old.

“It’s great just to be able to come out and play baseball for work,” Newman said. “You get to show up to the yard every day and play, and that’s just what every kid dreams of. We’re all here playing as one.”

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Jling3490
9/04
Just wondering but what do scouts mean when they talk about a prospect having the proper actions to play SS?
bravey13
9/04
I view it as first-step quickness, how they read the ball off the bat, footwork, how they handle the glove and arm action. Also take into account the little things like positioning on balls to the outfield and backing up plays, and instinct stuff. Basically how they handle themselves as an overall defender.