General manager Neal Huntington said Monday that Newman will open the season as a reserve middle infielder after Erik Gonzalez was named the team's starting shortstop, Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic reports. According to Adam Berry of MLB.com, Huntington cited Gonzalez's superior defense as the main reason the 27-year-old won out over Newman in the job battle. It's also possible that Pittsburgh chooses Pablo Reyes as a super-utility man, relegating Newman to Triple-A Indianapolis to begin the campaign. A 2015 first-round pick, Newman reached the big leagues for the first time last season but failed to make much of an impact in 97 plate appearances, slashing a middling .209/.247/.231. Newman has shown the ability to hit for average and steal bases at a decent clip in the minors, but his dearth of power and a lack of high-end speed will make it a challenge for him to contribute meaningful counting-stats production if he eventually claims a full-time role with Pittsburgh.
Newman went 3-for-4 with a double, a homer and three RBI against the Phillies on Thursday. He also stole his first base of the spring. Newman's big game may have moved him ahead of Erik Gonzalez in the starting shortstop competition. Gonzalez is batting just .120 in 25 Grapefruit League at-bats. Newman holds a career .288 batting average in the minors and stole 28 bases at Triple-A in 2018.
Newman is current;y positioned to either start at shortstop or serve as a backup middle infielder heading into the 2019 campaign. The 2015 first-round draft pick will compete with newcomer Erik Gonzalez for the starting shortstop spot. "He's a different guy this spring than we saw last September," general manager Neal Huntington said. Newman lost 15 pounds during the course of last summer and was likely physically sapped by the time he made his major-league debut in August. Since then, he's worked with the team's nutrition director to help him maintain his weight. Newman slashed .302/.350/.407 at Triple-A and stole a career-high 28 bases in 39 attempts. While he disappointed during his short time in Pittsburgh -- he hit .209 in 91 at-bats with zero steals -- the 25-year-old holds a .288 career batting average in the minor leagues.
Manager Clint Hurdle indicated Newman would compete with Erik Gonzalez for the Pirates' starting shortstop job during spring training, Adam Berry of MLB.com reports. With Jordy Mercer now in Detroit and Josh Harrison still sitting on the open market, the Pirates have vacancies for both of their middle-infield spots. While Adam Frazier is seemingly in pole position for duties at the keystone, the battle between Newman and Gonzalez, an offseason pickup from the Indians, should prove to be the more competitive job battle. Heading into camp, Newman is probably behind Gonzalez in the pecking order after slashing just .209/.247/.231 in his first taste of the big leagues last season. Gonzalez, meanwhile, didn't receive many opportunities to play behind Francisco Lindor in Cleveland the past three seasons, but he's well regarded for his dynamic defense and owns a respectable .263 batting average at the MLB level.
Newman is out of the lineup against the Reds on Saturday. Newman went 1-for-4 with one RBI during Friday's series opener and will receive a breather for the matinee while Jordy Mercer picks up a start at third base.