Pirates shortstop Kevin Newman left last night’s game due to left groin soreness, and the team’s director of sports medicine Todd Tomcyzk told reporters (including Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) this afternoon he’s been diagnosed with a strain. The issue is expected to keep him out for three-to-five weeks.
Newman will certainly be placed on the 10-day injured list, leaving the Bucs needing to fill in at shortstop. Newman has started 13 of the first 17 games there, with Hoy Park, Diego Castillo and Cole Tucker accounting for the other four outings. Tucker is on the COVID-19 injured list, so Park and Castillo figure to be in line for the bulk of playing time over the coming weeks. Manager Derek Shelton said it’ll be Castillo who gets the nod for tonight’s game against the Brewers (via Mike Persak of the Post-Gazette).
Castillo and Park both went to Pittsburgh from the Yankees in last summer’s Clay Holmes trade. Both players had solid numbers in the high minors last year, but they’re each already in their mid-20’s. Most public prospect evaluators don’t regard either as a long-term regular, although Castillo checked in 16th at Baseball America and 17th at FanGraphs during those outlets’ respective write-ups of the Bucs’ farm system this winter. Both noted that Castillo isn’t likely to be a long-term fit defensively at shortstop but praised his bat-to-ball skills and suggested he could be a useful bat-first utility type.
While a Castillo – Park pairing seems the likeliest outcome, the Pirates could look elsewhere to hold down shortstop in Newman’s absence. Ke’Bryan Hayes moved to the position from his customary third base spot for the final few innings last night, his first career action there. Hayes, widely regarded as a Gold Glove-caliber player at the hot corner, could probably hold his own at shortstop. It seems, however, the Bucs would rather leave him at third base, where they’re certain he can be a plus defender.
The Pirates also have top shortstop prospect Oneil Cruz on optional assignment to Triple-A Indianapolis. The 23-year-old made a brief big league cameo at the end of last year, but he was optioned to start this season. That seemed to be motivated, at least in part, by service time considerations. Cruz has now spent enough time in the minors that he wouldn’t automatically reach a full year of MLB service in 2022 even if he were called up for good today.
However, the new collective bargaining agreement grants a full season of service to top prospects who finish among their respective league’s top two in Rookie of the Year balloting. On the one hand, that’s a player-friendly provision; yet it can also disincentivize a team like the Pirates — amidst a full rebuild and not in position to compete in 2022 regardless — from calling up a player of Cruz’s talent level until deeper into the season to diminish the chances he compiles Rookie of the Year-caliber numbers to earn that bonus service year.
There’s also the simple matter of Cruz’s early performance in Indianapolis, which has not been good. He’s hitting .203/.288/.339 with just one homer through his first 66 plate appearances. It’s thus unsurprising Shelton didn’t sound as if the team were planning to bring Cruz up at this time. Asked if Cruz was an option to replace Newman, the skipper noted that “everybody in our system who’s on the roster at the upper levels will be given consideration” but added that “there’s still work (for Cruz) to be done. We’re focusing on what that work is” (Mackey links).
In other Pirates’ news, Shelton informed reporters that star outfielder Bryan Reynolds will be back on the roster tonight (via Persak). He hit the COVID list alongside Tucker yesterday, but it would appear he never tested positive and is currently asymptomatic.