GIFT NGOEPE, SHORTSTOP
Born: January 18, 1990
Height: 5′ 10″
Signed: Int. FA, Pittsburgh Pirates, 2008
How Acquired: Minor League Free Agent
Country: South Africa
WTM’S PLAYER PROFILE
|The Pirates signed the 18-year-old Ngoepe after watching him in a tournament in Italy. The signing showed the Pirates’ newfound aggressiveness in searching for talent, an attitude that was completely lacking under the previous regime. Ngoepe was very athletic, with good speed, excellent quickness and agility, and a good arm. He gained considerable attention, including a Sports Illustrated article, by virtue of being the first black South African to sign a US pro baseball contract, but it wasn’t a stunt. The Pirates considered him a legitimate prospect and he ultimately became the first player from the continent of Africa to appear in a major league game. Ngoepe proved to be a plus defender at short, but at the plate he’s always struggled with anything off speed. He initially had good speed and the Pirates tried to develop him as a top-of-the-order hitter, but he’s gotten heavier and isn’t a base stealing threat any more. He’s retained his quickness on defense, often producing highlight reel plays.
The Pirates brought Ngoepe to the GCL for his first year, where he served as the regular secondbaseman and usually as the leadoff hitter. He played a dozen games at short. He had only six errors total, a low number for middle infielder in rookie ball. Ngoepe was hitting around .300 in mid-July but slumped after that. He showed a willingness to take walks, but he fanned in nearly a third of his ABs and didn’t hit for any power.
Ngoepe moved up to State College and started off at second, later moving to short. He showed outstanding potential defensively, with excellent range and athleticism, as well as enough arm for short. He has the speed to steal a lot of bases, although his technique needs work. Things didn’t go as well at bat. Ngoepe seemed to be making progress, hitting for decent average and drawing lots of walks, until about mid-July. At that point, opponents started throwing him offspeed stuff almost exclusively and he couldn’t handle it at all. From the beginning of August on, he hit .118 with 34 Ks in 85 ABs.
Ngoepe opened at West Virginia, sharing the middle infield spots with Drew Maggi. Early in the season he showed signs of a complete turnaround with the bat. He cut his K rate to one every six ABs and even hit for good power. Unfortunately, he suffered a hamate injury and missed the rest of the season except for an aborted rehab stint in the GCL in mid-July.
Ngoepe moved up to Bradenton, which may have been a difficult move given how little time he had in low A. He didn’t retain the improvement he showed in 2011, aside from a surprising number of HRs. He struck out far too often as he continued to struggle with offspeed stuff. He did show a willingness to take a walk. He seemed to be making progress when he hit .313 in July, but he slumped to .141 in August and September. He hit just .214 from the left side, compared to .242 from the right side, but two-thirds of his HRs came left-handed. The Pirates kept him at short nearly all the time and he continued to show excellent range and a good arm. His defense was good enough to get him ranked by Baseball America as the 20th best prospect in the league.
The Pirates sent Ngoepe to Altoona, where he was the regular at short for the bulk of the season. He struggled severely with higher level offspeed stuff, fanning in nearly 40% of his ABs. The one positive sign was a good walk rate. Ngoepe missed most of July, unfortunately due to the death of his mother. When he returned, the Pirates sent him to Bradenton. He hit far better after that and got on base at a prodigious rate, but he continued to strike out almost 40% of the time. The team sent him to the Arizona Fall League after the season and he struggled badly with the bat there. He was not added to the 40-man roster and was not selected in the Rule 5 draft.
Ngoepe returned to Altoona and, with Alen Hanson at short, moved to second for most of the year. He continued to show very good defensive skills and excellent range. He moved back to short late in the season when the Pirates moved Hanson to second. At the plate, Ngoepe obviously made progress over the previous season, but he continued to strike out in a third of his ABs. He still can’t hit offspeed stuff and does his best to lay off it, which leads to good walk totals, but that doesn’t help when the pitches are thrown for strikes. Ngoepe seemed to be taking a big step forward when he posted a .923 OPS in July, but he slumped to .500 in August. He’s gotten noticeably bigger, which probably accounts for the increased power. He had no overall platoon split, but he hit for a higher average left-handed and more power right-handed.
The Pirates again faced the question whether to add Ngoepe to the 40-man roster and again chose not to add him. Ngoepe went back to Altoona and, with Adam Frazier and Max Moroff there, appeared destined for a utility role. Instead, Frazier missed the first month of the season. Ngoepe played well at short and continued getting most of the time there after Frazier returned. He gave up switch-hitting and his hitting improved, but only marginally. He continued to struggle with off speed stuff and his K rate remained very high, although not quite as high as the previous year. At the end of June, the Pirates promoted Ngoepe to Indianapolis. He took over at short there, but in late July went out with an oblique strain and didn’t return. The Pirates added him to the 40-man roster after the season, avoiding a situation where he could be a minor league free agent after the season.
Ngoepe spent the entire season in Indianapolis. Except for three games at second, he was the everyday shortstop. He showed his usual good range and committed only seven errors. At the plate he struggled badly, striking out in nearly 40% of his ABs. He had a couple of good month, especially August, when he put up a line of 255/359/473 and cut his K rate to one every four ABs. He hit for decent power for a shortstop, but struggled against RHPs, with a .597 OPS against them, compared to .734 against LHPs. Ngoepe’s season ended early when he was arrested in a bar fight in Toledo. The Pirates promptly suspended him for the rest of the AAA season and didn’t call him up. Since they did call up Pedro Florimon, who had to be added to the roster, it’s very likely they would have called up Ngoepe if not for the arrest.
Ngoepe had a big spring, batting .429, although he continued to strike out a lot. He wasn’t cut until near the end of camp and returned to AAA. He continued there much as the year before, with a slight increase in power and a slight decrease in his K rate, which was still alarming. He played the majority of the time at short, but also spent time at second and third. On April 26, the Pirates called up Ngoepe following an injury to Adam Frazier and, on that day, he became the first player from the continent of Africa to appear in a major league game, getting a hit and drawing a walk against the Cubs. Ngoepe was with the Pirates until the end of May, playing second, short and third. He missed the second half of June with an injury, but otherwise spent the rest of the season with Indianapolis. The Pirates didn’t call him up in September.
To create roster space, the Pirates sent Ngoepe to Toronto for cash considerations after the 2017 season. He opened the season with the Jays as a utility infielder, but was sent down in mid-April and returned for only one more game. Otherwise, he served in a utility role in AAA. He struggled to hit, with an alarming K rate in AAA. Toronto removed him from their 40-man roster in May and released him in August.
The Phillies signed Ngoepe to a minor league deal and sent him to AAA, where he mainly played second base. His hitting rebounded somewhat, mainly in the form of greater power, but he continued to strike out a great deal. In June the Phillies released him and he signed with the Pirates.
The Pirates had a number of upper-level injuries to their infielders when they signed Ngoepe. He was expected to head to Altoona.
|2019: Minor league contract|
|Signing Bonus: $15,000
MiLB Debut: 2009
MLB Debut: N/A
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2025
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/5/2015
Options Remaining: 1 (USED: 2016, 2017)
MLB Service Time: 0.072
|September 29, 2008: Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an international free agent.
November 5, 2015: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
November 20, 2017: Traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Toronto Blue Jays for cash considerations.
May 3, 2018: Designated for assignment by the Toronto Blue Jays; outrighted to AAA on May 7.
August 13, 2018: Released by the Toronto Blue Jays.
January 11, 2019: Signed as a minor league free agent by the Philadelphia Phillies.
June 20, 2019: Released by the Philadelphia Phillies.
June 26, 2019: Signed as a minor league free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates.