If you hear the names Frazier and Newman, you might think of a couple shows from the 1990s NBC television schedule (yes, I know the great sitcom’s spelled “Frasier”). In this case, though, we’re talking about the Pirates’ modern-day middle infield. Although the team looks as if it’s a ways away from returning to contention, it does seem to have a promising second base-shortstop combination in Adam Frazier and Kevin Newman. They’re two of the reasons why all hope isn’t lost for a franchise that has cratered in recent years after it went to the playoffs in each season from 2013-15.
Looking back to 2013, Frazier was a sixth-round pick (that means he wouldn’t have been selected this year) who topped out as Baseball America’s 27th-ranked Pirates prospect after the 2015 campaign. As BA noted then, Frazier somehow went three seasons at Mississippi State without hitting a home run, but he has since shown more pop in the majors. Last season was his second straight 10-HR showing, which isn’t saying much in such a power-happy era, but he has still been a roughly average offensive performer since debuting in 2016. He’s the owner of a respectable lifetime .279/.342/.420 line and a 103 wRC+ across 1,574 plate appearances, and he managed a decent fWAR of 2.2 in 608 PA last year. And while Frazier’s penciled in as the Pirates’ second baseman, he’s versatile enough to move around the diamond if they find a better option there. The 28-year-old has logged a substantial amount of time in the outfield, where he has played all three spots, and has seen a bit of action at shortstop and third base.
Newman, 26, has also shown off a good amount of versatility, having lined up at both middle infield positions, third and in left since he got to the majors in 2018. The majority of Newman’s work has come at short, though, and that’s a position he has on lockdown – at least, until rising prospect Oneil Cruz gets to MLB.
Even if Cruz does reach the league sometime soon and bump Newman off short, the club may still have a keeper in the latter. A first-round pick in 2015 and a former top 100 prospect, Newman impressed in his first full season in 2019 with 2.4 fWAR and a .308/.353/.446 line with 12 homers and 16 steals in 531 PA. Newman doesn’t hit the ball that hard or bring a lot of power to the table, but he’s a fast runner who consistently makes contact. Those factors make him a good candidate to continue posting high averages. Just four hitters outdid Newman’s strikeout percentage of 11.7 last season, and only three bettered his 87 percent contact rate.
Frazier and Newman aren’t exactly exciting players, but they could make for a nice, inexpensive duo for the Pirates going forward. They’ll combine for less than $3.5MM this year, which is important for a low-budget Pirates team that will put a dirt-cheap roster on the field if a season does happen. Of the two, though, Newman seems more likely to stick around for longer, considering he has five years of control left to Frazier’s three. The Pirates haven’t been shy about selling off players with dwindling team control, but perhaps that will change with new general manager Ben Cherington at the helm. In the meantime, the hope for Pittsburgh is that Frazier and Newman will continue as the effective, low-cost performers they’ve been so far.