Earlier this month, Adam Frazier returned from a hand injury that put him out of action in Spring Training. The sixth round draft pick from 2013, headed to Altoona, where it was assumed that he would take over at shortstop for Gift Ngoepe. At the end of April, Ngoepe was hitting .172/.232/.250 in 18 games. This is his third season in AA and it looked like his potential had maxed out. A funny thing has happened since the calendar turned to May.
In 20 games this month, Ngoepe is hitting .348/.434/.500 and he is playing shortstop everyday. Frazier played one game at shortstop when he first came back, then started splitting his time between center field and DH. Ngoepe has been so good since Frazier returned, he changed his position. If Ngoepe hadn’t started hitting, it would be hard to find a good reason to leave him in the starting lineup over a solid player like Frazier. The slow start from Ngoepe this year may have a good reason though.
Ngoepe went through a major change this season, he stopped switch-hitting. He now hits strictly from the right side and he is doing well against righties. Including his slow start in April, he’s hitting .263/.342/.384 in 99 at-bats. At first the switch might seem strange, especially since he has hit better from the left side each of the last three years. His natural side is right-handed though, and now all of his batting practice time and at-bats are coming from the same side, so he is putting in twice the amount of practice from the right side as he was before the switch. So far, he hasn’t had any trouble with the switch and it’s still early in the process, so he could get even better.
There is a lot to like about Ngoepe if the bat is finally starting to come around. He is likely the best defensive player in the Pirates’ farm system, though Pedro Florimon makes it close. Ngoepe can play shortstop and second base equally as well. He has above average speed and he has shown the ability to hit for some power. Last year, he had nine triples and nine homers, which came with a .238 average. If he keeps improving, you could picture him hitting 15 homers in a season, or at least adding some more doubles to his total. He has never hit more than 17 in a season.
Before you get too excited about Ngoepe though, you have to remember where he was this time last year. On May 24th, Ngoepe had a .253/.358/.383 slash line. If that sounds somewhat similar to this year, well it’s almost the same(15 points higher OPS, ten points lower BA) as he has now. After May 24th last year, Ngoepe had a .561 OPS in June and a .500 OPS in August. He hit well in July, but his overall stats were not good by the end of the year and that’s why he is repeating the same level.
Because of his split season last year, he is going to have to keep hitting before he is considered a legit prospect. He’s also in his seventh season, so he could reach minor league free agency at the end of the season if the Pirates don’t re-sign him or add him to the 40-man roster, which is unlikely at this point. Ngoepe’s upside is probably a player that gets a cup of coffee in the big leagues, maybe he is a bench player for a couple years. His glove is Major League ready and his speed adds value. It’s always been the bat that has held him back and it’ possible that he is finally starting to get on track.
Pirates Game Graph
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates defeated the Mets by a 4-1 score on Friday night. A.J. Burnett starts this afternoon. He has allowed two earned runs or less in all eight starts this season. Matt Harvey gets the start for New York. Burnett has the second best ERA in MLB, while Harvey has the ninth best ERA at 1.98.
In the minors, Adrian Sampson has gone at least six innings in each of his last six starts. He has allowed three earned runs or less in all eight starts. John Sever had his longest outing of the season last time out, throwing 5.1 innings without an earned run. Matt Benedict gets the start for Altoona. He has gone from the Altoona bullpen to start the season, then to the Bradenton rotation, then to their bullpen, then to Indianapolis for a start, and now to Altoona to start. Benedict’s opposing pitcher is Matt Boyd, who has a 1.02 ERA in eight starts. You can view last night’s prospect watch here.
MLB: Pittsburgh (19-22) vs Mets (24-19) 4:05 PM
Probable starter: A.J. Burnett (1.38 ERA, 18:43 BB/SO, 52.0 IP)
Here we have a home run from earlier in the week, hit by our featured player, Gift Ngoepe
5/22: Jaff Decker activated from disabled list. Andy Vasquez assigned to WV Black Bears.
5/20: Tyler Glasnow placed on disabled list.
5/19: Julio Eusebio, Cesilio Pimentel and Ryan Hafner assigned to Extended Spring Training. Bradenton adds Henry Hirsch, Felipe Gonzalez and Brett McKinney to roster.
5/19: Jose Tabata added to 40-man roster and recalled. Wilfredo Boscan optioned to Indianapolis.
5/19: Justin Seller transferred to 60-day disabled list.
5/19: Matt Benedict assigned to Altoona.
5/17: Jeff Roy placed on disabled list. Trace Tam Sing added to WV Power roster
5/17: Bradenton adds Julio Eusebio, Cesilio Pimentel and Ryan Hafner to roster. Henry Hirsch, Felipe Gonzalez and Brett McKinney assigned to Extended Spring Training.
5/16: Luis Heredia added to Bradenton roster. Matt Benedict promoted to Indianapolis.
5/16: Wilfredo Boscan added to 40-man roster and promoted to Majors. Steve Lombardozzi sent to Indianapolis.
5/16: Brandon Cumpton transferred to 60-day disabled list.
5/15: Charlie Leesman placed on Indianapolis disabled list.
5/15: Antonio Bastardo activated from Paternity List. Bobby LaFromboise optioned to Indianapolis.
5/14: Charlie Morton assigned to Indianapolis on rehab.
5/14: Pirates sign catcher Paul Brands.
5/13: Hayden Hurst placed on Voluntarily Retired List.
5/12: Indianapolis placed John Holdzkom on disabled list.
5/11: Felipe Gonzalez added to Bradenton roster. Ryan Hafner assigned to Extended Spring Training.
5/11: Charlie Leesman added to Indianapolis roster.
5/11: Antonio Bastardo placed on Paternity List. Bobby LaFromboise recalled from Indianapolis.
5/11: Connor Joe added to WV Power roster. Trace Tam Sing transferred to WV Black Bears.
5/10: Pirates acquire Jayson Aquino from Toronto Blue Jays for cash. Aquino assigned to Bradenton.
5/9: Pirates released Justin Howard.
This Date in Pirates History
Four former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date, including one of the best pitchers in team history. First the other players born on May 23rd, we start with Mike Gonzalez, who was a reliever/closer for the Pirates from 2003 until 2006. Infielder Nelson Norman from the 1982 team and right fielder Bill Miller, who played his only MLB game on August 23,1902. He has a very interesting story, which can be read in the link above.
On to the star player from this date, pitcher Deacon Phillippe. He won 168 games for the Pirates between 1900 and 1911, helping them two four NL titles and two World Series appearances. In 12 Major League seasons, he never had a losing record, finishing 189-109, which makes him a fringe Hall of Fame candidate. During the 1903 season when Pittsburgh played in the first World Series, Phillippe won 25 games and he started five games during the WS, winning three times. You can read a lot more on him here, which is an article that breaks down how he fared against the best/worst teams during his day and the best pitchers of his time.
One trade of note on this date in 1963. The Pirates dealt outfielder Bob Skinner to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for outfielder Jerry Lynch. It seemed like the Pirates were getting slightly worse in the deal, but Lynch ended up being the better player, while Skinner struggled early in 1964 and was dealt away to the St Louis Cardinals.