Mentoring Newman, Mercer pays it forward

Veteran's tutelage can be traced through long chain of shortstops

Mentoring Newman, Mercer pays it forward

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jordy Mercer was once like Kevin Newman, a young shortstop trying to establish himself and fortunate to have a mentor at his position.

Early in Mercer's career, that player was Clint Barmes. And manager Clint Hurdle can remember Walt Weiss, a former Rockies shortstop turned special assistant, guiding Barmes during their time in Colorado before that. Now, Newman is learning from Mercer in his first big league Spring Training with the Pirates.

"It's just a beautiful part of the game for me," Hurdle said. "I really appreciate those types of relationships in baseball and how that transcends. … The handing of the baton or just the tutelage, the mentoring, is very special in this game."

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It doesn't seem like long ago that Mercer was taking ground balls with Barmes, the Pirates' present and future at shortstop working side by side. Last week at Pirate City, Mercer lined up alongside Newman, considered by many to be the Bucs' next long-term solution at shortstop.

"It reminded me of me out there, watching him," Mercer said of Newman. "Memories start flowing through your head. You were there at one point. I was taking ground balls with Barmes, you know? It's so surreal.

"I know [Barmes] made my life so much easier and helped my transition. I think that's the right thing to do, pass it along to Newman and hope his transition's easier, too."

Mercer is now viewed as a veteran in Pittsburgh's clubhouse. That distinction -- veteran -- occasionally feels strange to Mercer, who's only 30 years old. Yet this will be his 10th year in the Pirates' organization. He's accrued over four years of service time, locked up the starting shortstop job, played in the postseason and earned the respect of his teammates.

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"You don't want to grow older in this game," Mercer said. "But to be labeled that is pretty neat."

First, Mercer learned quite a bit from Barmes, who played 13 years in the Majors. Some of that happened on the field, but Mercer mostly remembers how accommodating Barmes would be with younger players in the clubhouse.

"As a young kid, that's pretty special," Mercer said. "I made that point clear to a lot of guys: If they need anything, don't be afraid to come to my locker and ask me."

Newman said that attitude is reflected in not only Mercer, but all of the Pirates' veterans. The 19th overall pick in the 2015 Draft, Newman has only played 61 games above Class A ball. He'll probably return to Double-A to start this season, maybe reaching Triple-A later this summer. But he still feels comfortable in a big league atmosphere thanks to players like Mercer.

Last season, the Pirates asked Newman to watch video of Mercer's pre-pitch setup and technique. This spring, Newman has picked Mercer's brain about specific throws, angles and adjustments.

Mercer said Newman, MLBPipeline.com's No. 59 overall prospect, is "already a great player." One day, perhaps Newman will take another young shortstop under his wing, continuing a line of mentorship that reaches back long before his career began.

"If that's how you look at it, that's obviously really, really cool," Newman said, smiling. "Hopefully one day I do step up and get a chance -- when that is, I don't know -- but it's definitely cool to be in that conversation."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.