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Gift Ngoepe

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Mpho' Gift Ngoepe

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[edit] Biographical Information

Gift Ngoepe was the first South African player signed out of the European Baseball Academy.

Ngoepe played for South Africa in the 2006 World Junior Championship. He was the youngest player on the South African national team in the 2007 Baseball World Cup. The 17-year-old played all 3 outfield spots and went 1 for 12 with 5 strikeouts and a stolen base. After attending the 2008 European Academy, he was signed by scouts Tom Randolph and Jackie Bowen of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Ngoepe was South Africa's star in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, with two triples (both off Elmer Dessens) in five at-bats, a walk, a run and a RBI in two games. His OPS was almost triple South Africa's next-best player, Brett Willemburg. Despite playing only two games, he tied Jimmy Rollins, Endy Chavez and Gregor Blanco for second in the event in three-baggers, one behind Yoennis Céspedes. He then was featured on the cover of the South African edition of Sports Illustrated. Ngoepe debuted with the GCL Pirates on June 23, going 2 for 4 against the GCL Yankees. He hit .238/.341/.281 that season while playing primarily second base. He led the Gulf Coast League in both sacrifice hits (8) and times caught stealing (9).

Ngoepe led South Africa in hitting during the 2009 Baseball World Cup. Ngoepe was four for ten with a double and two runs scored. In 2010, he appeared for the State College Spikes (.205/.315/.319) and Bradenton Marauders (1 for 4, BB). He missed most of 2011 with a hamate injury, playing for the West Virginia Power (.306/.359/.459 in 25 G) and GCL Pirates (1 for 6). With Bradenton in 2012, he batted .232/.330/.338 with 66 runs and 63 walks. He was 5th in the Florida State League in walks, 4th in caught stealing (14) and was 4th in strikeouts (131). He led FSL shortstops in total chances (560), putouts (188), assists (351) and double plays (71) in his first full season at the position. Baseball America named him the #20 prospect in the FSL, the best defensive shortstop in the league and the best defensive infielder in the Pirates chain. He did well for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League - .261/.370/.413.

In the 2013 World Baseball Classic Qualifiers played in September 2012, he was 1 for 9 with six walks, a steal and a run. He got his lone hit off Leonel Cespedes of France, a double. He led South Africa's regulars in OBP, .005 over Karl Weitz. For all the four qualifiers, he tied Ssu-Chi Chou for the most walks. In the US-based qualifier, he led in walks by two over Weitz, infield mate Jonathan Phillips, Engel Beltre and Josh Satin. In 2013, he fielded .968 at short that summer but struggled at the plate with the Altoona Curve (.177/.278/.282 in 72 G), hitting well for Bradenton (.292/.424/.427 in 28 G). He also stole better, 17 for 21. Baseball America again named him the best defensive infielder in the Pirates system.

Ngoepe struggled in his return to Scottsdale (.078/.172/.08 in 17 G) in the 2013 Arizona Fall League. He mostly played second base with Altoona in 2014 as Alen Hanson manned short. He showed some progress at the plate, hitting .238/.319/.380 with 9 triples, 9 homers and 51 walks. He had a game-ending squeeze bunt to score Keon Broxton one game. He led Eastern League second basemen with 459 total chances. He tied Broxton for second in the EL in triples, behind Hanson. Among Pirates farmhands, he tied Jaff Decker for 7th in walks and tied Broxton and Chase d'Arnaud for second in triples, behind Hanson. Baseball America once again named him the best defensive infielder in the Bucco chain.

He decided to stop switch-hitting in spring 2015, only batting right-handed. He spent most of 2015 at SS for Altoona, hitting .260/.338/.362 and fielding .967 before a late-season call-up to the Indianapolis Indians (.246/.313/.311 in 21 G). Despite having twice been passed over in the Rule 5 Draft previously, Pittsburgh added him to their 40-man roster that winter, perhaps due to declining infield depth (Neil Walker having been traded, leaving only Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison, Jung-ho Kang and Sean Rodriguez on the MLB roster as 2B-SS-3B options and with Hanson having moved from SS to 2B in 2015).

Ngoepe then was a late addition to South Africa for the 2017 World Baseball Classic Qualifiers held in February 2016. Despite having the most pro experience on the team and being the only 40-man roster player in the Sydney qualifiers (there were 10 former major leaguers), he did a disappointing job (.125/.263/.313) as their leadoff man and shortstop. Only Brandon Bouillon had a lower OPS among their regulars and some players with no US pro experience did far better (Kyle Botha, Keegan Swanepoel). Ngoepe did take Travis Blackley deep to open the finale against host Australia but South Africa wound up falling.

Gift's brother Victor Ngoepe, who is eight years younger, signed a professional contract with the Pirates' organization in January 2016.

Event Team G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB BB SO SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS HBP GDP SF SH PO A E FLD%
2007 Baseball World Cup South Africa - 12 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 5 1 0 .083 .083 .083 .166 - - - - - - - -
2009 World Baseball Classic South Africa 2 5 1 2 0 2 0 1 6 1 1 0 0 .400 .500 1.200 1.700 - - - - - - - -
2009 Baseball World Cup South Africa 3 10 2 4 1 0 0 0 5 1 4 0 0 .400 .450 .500 .950 0 1 0 0 6 6 0 1.000
2013 World Baseball Classic Qualifiers South Africa 3 9 1 1 1 0 0 0 2 6 2 1 0 .111 .467 .222 .689 - - - - - - - -
2017 World Baseball Classic Qualifiers South Africa 4 16 2 2 0 0 1 2 5 3 2 0 0 .125 .263 .313 .576 - - - - - - - -

[edit] Sources

[edit] Further Reading

  • Adam Berry: "Ngoepe brothers reunite on other side of world: South African natives together in Pirates' farm system", mlb.com, March 25, 2016. [1]

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