The Pirates are one of baseball’s most anonymous teams in 2019. The club is in the NL Central basement, not remotely contending. You’ve probably noticed Josh Bell clubbing a ton of homers, and Chris Archer getting racked regularly. Much of the remainder of the roster blends together. Heck, even the talented outfield is a logjam, without a set daily lineup.
So it makes sense that shortstop Kevin Newman is also flying under the radar. But let’s take note of what the 25-year-old is doing, because there’s a buying opportunity here.
Not long ago, Newman showed up on the prospect radar. He was the 19th pick in the 2015 draft class, out of the University of Arizona, and he was a Top 65 prospect on the primary clipboards entering 2017. But Newman didn’t hit much in 2017, and he quickly fell from scouting favor. And even his respectable year at Triple-A last year (.302/.350/.407, 28 steals) was quickly offset by a lost 31 games in Pittsburgh (a putrid .478 OPS).
Two months ago, Cole Tucker was the fair-haired shortstop in the Pittsburgh system. And maybe Tucker, just 22, will figure things out soon enough. But his six weeks in Pittsburgh were a mess (.196/.244/.321), and it’s opened the door for Newman to step through.
Maybe the light is going on for Newman, as he’s slashing .315/.364/.430 through 45 games. He’s not a big power guy (this is no Thunderclap Newman), but he’s stolen four bases. He’s batted leadoff in 17 of the team’s last 19 games, and he’s seen time at four positions in all (second, short, third, outfield). He makes regular contact (13.6 percent strikeout rate), and he’s bumped his walk rate from last year.
The 2019 Pirates offense isn’t the Lumber Company, revisited. Pittsburgh stands 21st in runs, 27th in homers (despite the amazing Bell). But batting slots are critically important for National League players, and that makes Newman a viable deep-league rental. Let’s see where the story goes.
Hello, Newman? He’s available in 91 percent of Yahoo leagues.
The misunderstood Ian Desmond
Ian Desmond’s 2018 season wasn’t fairly appreciated. Sure, he didn’t seem to live up to his pricy Colorado contract, but we don’t have to pay the tab on that. And while a .234 average leaves a scar, he fared well in the other four primary roto categories — 82 runs, 22 homers, 88 RBIs, 20 steals. He was a Top 55 or Top 60 hitter in most 5x5 valuation systems, and, oddly, his stats showed no home/road tilt.
Desmond’s 2019 season has taken a different shape. He got off to a miserable .196/.235/.370 start in April, and when you collect the check Desmond does, that makes you a critical target. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. He’s on a .333/.408/.651 barrage over his last 41 games (31 starts), with 29 runs, eight homers, and 27 RBIs. (The steals, they haven’t come back. Oh well, can’t have everything.)
There are jagged splits for Desmond this year, and if you want to apply them, he becomes a fun DFS play forward. His OPS jumps to 1.042 against lefties, and it’s .953 at Coors Field. No wonder he crushed in the thin air last week.
The key to all of this Desmond mishegoss is to remember we don’t have to pay his contract, nor do we have to extract the float of Colorado from his statistics. If Coors Field makes Desmond (or some of his hitting teammates) appear better than they really are, so what? We’re just in it for the numbers. Turn into the skid, and why run uphill when you can run downhill?
Cavan Biggio coming on
Cavan Biggio is the lesser of Toronto’s three legacy kids, after Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. But maybe Biggio is ready for a legitimate contribution. He clubbed a couple of home runs in Monday’s loss to the Angels, his second two-homer game in five days. His .233 average is still an eyesore, but he’s getting on base (.378 OBP) and generating power (.517 slugging).
It will be interesting where Biggio eventually settles in the lineup. He’s slotted in six different positions during his starts — over the last week, he’s batted first, second, sixth, and seventh. If he can carve out a regular spot that isn’t in the bottom third, I’m open-minded to Biggio as a plausible-upside play for the deeper-league crowd. He’s been aggressively added this week, but is still unclaimed in 81 percent of Yahoo. At least he’s not saddled with the rookie challenges of his dad, which included demanding games behind the plate, and hitting in the dreary Astrodome.