MLB Projections: The 2020 batting champion could be…

GOODYEAR, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 23: Tim Anderson #7 of the Chicago White Sox bats against the Cincinnati Reds on February 23, 2020 at Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
GOODYEAR, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 23: Tim Anderson #7 of the Chicago White Sox bats against the Cincinnati Reds on February 23, 2020 at Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images) /
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Pirates infielder Kevin Newman. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Pirates infielder Kevin Newman. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

MLB Projections: The 2020 batting champion could be…

9. Kevin Newman, Pittsburgh Pirates

Kevin Newman is a 26-year-old middle infielder entering his second full season with the Pirates. On a team that is not expected to contend, he appears to have a solid grip on both the shortstop and leadoff positions, maximizing his batting opportunities.

The case for Newman as a possible 2020 batting champion begins with his rookie season .308 batting average. That’s a 100-point leap from the introductory experience he got in 2018.

The support numbers behind that performance are mixed. Newman had a 33.6 percent chase rate in 2019; swinging outside the strike zone that much isn’t exactly an endorsement. His 84.7 mph exit velocity is also ordinary at best.

He does use the whole field. Newman faced shifts just one percent of the time in 2019, and there’s no reason to expect that percentage to increase.

He’s also comfortable handling both velocity and change of velocity. Newman batted .314 against fastballs and .315 against changeups in 2019.

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Finally, Newman has the foot speed to beat out his less than full-contact cuts. At 28.5 feet per second, he ranked in the 84th percentile among all major leaguers in foot speed in 2019.

Since 2020 will only be Newman’s second full season, his learning curve may not yet have maxed out. Perhaps his title may have to wait until 2021 or 2022. Still, Newman did finish eighth in batting in 2019, trailing Christian Yelich by 21 percentage points.