By Jason Shetler
While the Pirates signings of Rinku Singh and Danish Patel from India in 2008 generated a ton of media buzz, another signee that year who didn’t receive as much attention was Gift Ngoepe. The Pirates signing of Ngoepe made him the first ever black South African player to sign a professional baseball contract. Although he had some baseball experience prior to signing, unlike Singh and Patel, Ngoepe was also considered a long shot to make the big leagues.
Fast forward to last year. Ngoepe began the 2015 season with AA Altoona. He was then promoted to AAA Indianapolis in late June. Combined with the two affiliates, Ngoepe had a .333 on base percentage along with a decent walk rate of 8.5% in 92 games. Over the last few years, most publications have considered Ngoepe the best defensive infielder in the Pirates system. Getting to watch him during the WBC qualifier for South Africa, his defensive abilities were certainly on display. With just one level away, can Ngoepe contribute to the Pirates at some point?
The complicated matter regarding Ngoepe is that he’s not a legitimate prospect, especially now that he’s 26. Plus, the Pirates have a few infield prospects that are much better with of course Alen Hanson, as well as Adam Frazier and Max Moroff, both of whom really broke out last season with Altoona. While Ngoepe doesn’t have exceptional offensive numbers, he does a decent job of getting on base, particularly with the free pass. Back in 2012 with High A Bradenton, he stole 22 bases, so he does have above average speed, and as mentioned, he plays solid defense. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Ngoepe could find himself as a September call up for the Pirates this season, mainly to be used in pinch-run situations. Unless injuries start to occur with the infielders, then Ngoepe could get his shot off the bench in different scenarios. Ultimately, the Pirates could either hang onto him for AAA depth purposes or perhaps he could end up with another organization for more of a fair opportunity.