According to Jon Heyman and as reported by MLB Trade Rumors, the Diamondbacks are in agreement with Kevin Newman. Steve Gilbert confirms and adds that it is a minor league deal with a spring training invite. Newman joins a shortstop/utility infield mix that includes 2023 All Star Geraldo Perdomo, top prospect Jordan Lawlar, 2023 trade deadline acquisition Jace Peterson, Emmanuel Rivera, and Blaze Alexander.
Newman starred at the University of Arizona, albeit without much power, and was the first round selection of the Pirates in 2015. He was a consensus top-100 prospect prior to the 2017 season, but he took a step backwards in his first taste of AAA and fell out of the top-100 list. However, he seized the starting shortstop job in Pittsburgh in 2019 and held it until he was supplanted by Oneil Cruz. In 2019, he posted a wRC+ of 109, good for 12th among major league shortstops, one spot behind Corey Seager and ahead of bigger names like Dansby Swanson, Elvis Andrus, and Brandon Crawford. In addition, he had the lowest strikeout rate of any qualified shortstop, and the fifth lowest strikeout rate among all qualified batters.
Unfortunately, he took not so much a step back as a giant leap off a cliff in 2020-2021. His wRC+ was 52. He was the only shortstop with over 500 plate appearances and negative fWAR. However, despite his putrid offense, he still posted the lowest strikeout rate of all batters with at least 500 plate appearances across those two seasons.
He did rebound in 2022 and sustained his recovery in 2023. Across those two seasons, playing in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in a backup role, he posted an 86 wRC+ and 1.3 fWAR. His defense is rated as generally average, but he does boast positional flexibility. He did strike out more, but was still the 27th lowest strikeout rate among batters with 500 or more plate appearances.
So the Diamondbacks are getting a player who doesn’t strike out, but also doesn’t contribute a lot with the bat. Why? In short: positional flexibility. Jace Peterson is just as bad or worse at the dish, bats left handed, and has just 8 games at shortstop, none since 2021. However, Newman also has the potential to be an excellent platoon bat for Perdomo until Lawlar is ready to play the position every day. Across the past two seasons, his wRC+ against left handed pitching is 126. That’s identical to Justin Turner’s and better than Dansby Swanson, Trea Turner, and former Diamondbacks Tommy Pham and Evan Longoria. Yes, that number is somewhat boosted by a .407 BABIP against left handed pitching in 2022, but he managed a 114 wRC+ with a BABIP of .259 against left handed pitching in 2020, so it’s not all BABIP. And his lone bad year against left handed pitching, 2021, saw him post a .214 BABIP in those at bats. Perdomo has, for his career, a 66 wRC+ against left handed pitching, and, lest you think that is because of his offensive struggles in 2022, he was actually worse last year, with a 62 wRC+.
Newman will have his work cut out for him to make the roster. Even if the Diamondbacks want Lawlar to have more seasoning in Reno, Blaze Alexander has mashed lefties throughout his minor league career and would also make sense as a platoon partner for Perdomo. Also, because Newman has amassed more than five years of major league service time, he would need to consent to being optioned, so using Alexander would provide more flexibility. But he remains a useful depth piece in one of the more interesting position battles we will see play out in the spring. Also, his signing perhaps indicates that Mike Hazen is concerned about the level of strikeouts on the roster and hoping to fix that.