I bet if I asked you who the first black South African baseball player to sign a U.S. baseball contract was, you wouldn’t guess correctly. Actually, the headline of this article gives it away; it’s Gift Ngoepe.
The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Ngoepe as an 18-year-old prior to the 2009 season. Ngoepe has always been viewed as a strong defense, no offense shortstop, but he is doing his best to change that view. A career .229/.331/.337 hitter between five minor-league levels over six seasons, Ngoepe is having a bit of a breakout season with the Double-A Altoona Curve.
In 159 plate appearances, Ngoepe is hitting .241/.350/.391 with a 111 wRC+ while walking in 13.8 percent of his trips to the plate. He will never develop into an above-average hitter, but he doesn’t really have to in order to make the big leagues. Due to his elite glove-work at shortstop, a premium defensive position, Ngoepe will eventually find his way onto a MLB club. His defense is already considered to be elite; his bat just needs to improve.
If he is able to increase his value on offense, Ngoepe will play a Clint Barmes or Brendan Ryan role on a club at some point. His biggest hole on offense is against off-speed pitches, leading to high strikeout rates. An average Ngoepe season will result in a strikeout percentage in the mid-to-high 20s.
Defensively, he is a slick-fielding shortstop who can also play second base. His ability to play second base means nothing, however, as his true value comes from the defense he brings at shortstop. He has an extremely strong, accurate arm with very good range. Don’t be surprised if you start hearing Ngoepe’s name floated in trade rumors as the 2014 MLB trade deadline approaches, as some teams undoubtedly value him highly.