When we last checked in with top Pirates 2015 draft pick Kevin Newman, he had just signed and was excited to start his pro career. He's now played 17 games with the West Virginia Black Bears, and he's off to a rough start offensively. After Wednesday's game, I spoke to him about adapting to pro ball and about Morgantown's unusual synthetic infield. Here's the transcript, lightly edited for length.
This is the first game I've gotten to see you play in person, and this seems like a pretty professional infield. What's it like to play alongside [third baseman Mitchell] Tolman and [second baseman Kevin] Kramer? There were a lot of plays today that were not routine.
They're great players. I've played against them, and with them, for a long time now, coming from the PAC and being from California along with them. They're great competitors, great players, and to be next to them in the infield really gives us an advantage.
How are the pitchers you've been seeing here in the NY-Penn League different from the pitchers you had seen in the PAC?
They're definitely better. They hit their spots more ...
They hit their spots more here?
Yeah, I would say yes, and the umpires help them out a little bit here. But they're good pitchers. Their stuff is better. They're effectively wild. So I guess not as much hitting their spots, but with velocity, around the zone. It's a transition, and I'm starting to understand the professional game rather than the college game. It's a lot different.
If the strike zone is a bit bigger here, how do you adjust to that?
You shorten up your swing. It's definitely tough. You just kind of have to expand your zone, and with that, when you get to two strikes, you've got to swing at anything close. Everybody has to go through it. I'm not complaining about it.
What are the other adjustments you're having to make in terms of pro ball versus collegiate ball?
There's definitely players here that are just flat-out stronger than guys in college. You've got guys that are faster. So the speed of the game, how hard balls are hit ... you know, different atmosphere than it was in college. So, you know, things like that. [What's important is] staying within myself, trying to slow the game down, and control what I can control.
What does "slow the game down" mean? I hear ballplayers say that a lot.
It's really easy to get caught up in everything. You've got a runner there, [a] runner here. Guy's throwing 95. You've got issues off the field. Everything. You've just got to focus on what you can focus on, which is the pitch. I'm out in the field, I play defense, and here comes the pitch. I'm ready for the ball, and there's nothing else that matters.
How does the infield out here [in Morgantown] feel? It's a very unusual-looking infield.
I've never played on turf for my home field before. It's really fast. So it's definitely different. I prefer dirt. Especially if it gets wet -- you get a little rain out here, it hits the ground [and] just takes off. You know, just get as many ground balls as we can here to try to get used to that. It can be used to our advantage when people come here for the first time, because I remember when I first got out there and started taking ground balls, it was definitely different.
Next year you're probably going to be assigned someplace else. Is there going to be an adjustment period as you're moving back to a slower infield?
If there is, it'd be really quick. Everywhere else we go is dirt. So when we go there, I love it.
A lot of the Pirates' top draft choices last year were college players like yourself, and a bunch of them are here in Morgantown. Is there a sense that a lot of you share similar backgrounds, and is that important?
It's kind of funny -- a lot of PAC ballplayers, a lot guys from California. We kind of joke about it. Other than that, there's nothing more that we really think about, just other than, we're all here to work hard and do our jobs.
Do you feel the weight of expectations now that you've been a first-round pick?
I have, but at the end of the day, I do my best just to kind of filter that out. It does me no good to battle myself. I just need to focus on my game. The Pirates drafted me for who I am and how I play, and I need to trust in my abilities.