Sometimes, a person is born with a name that just makes them stand out from the crowd of others in their profession. Such is the blessing, and curse, bestowed upon Gift Ngoepe. With a name like that, Ngoepe is going to attract a bit of attention.
Last year, the middle infielder from Zaire took a few steps forward with his performance on the diamond. While his .238/.319/.380 batting line may not impress, Ngoepe did hit nine home runs, nine triples and stole 13 bases in his second season with the Altoona Curve. Compared to his 2013 campaign, when Ngoepe produced a .177/.278/.282 batting line, he was certainly able to take a couple of steps forward.
Only the sixth South African, and the first non-white player from South Africa to sign with a major league club, Gift Ngoepe is an understandably raw player. While he has been around baseball for a great portion of his life, as his mother was a clubhouse attendant for a baseball team and his family lived in the clubhouse, baseball in Africa is still in its infancy. The level of instruction just is not the same as it is here.
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Despite how raw Ngoepe still is, there are obvious skills. He was voted as the Pirates best defensive infielder by Baseball America heading into the 2013 season. Ngoepe has solid speed and a decent batting eye, as he walked 10.2% of his plate appearances last year. In his minor league career, Ngoepe has an 11.2% walk rate, displaying a solid knowledge of the strike zone.
The biggest problem for Gift Ngoepe may be figuring out how best to use his gifts. He rarely hits the ball with authority, possessing a career 11.2% line drive rate, and strikes out far too often for a player with his skill set. However, if Ngeoepe does put the bat on the ball, he has a career batting average on balls in play of .316. With more work on his swing, and a better ability to make contact, Ngoepe could start to see his batting line climb.
As it stands, if Ngoepe is to continue to progress through the Pirates system, it may be as a defensive first utility infielder. However, to get beyond Altoona, he will likely need to prove that he can be more than just a speedster with a glove, especially given the depth the Pirates have in the middle of their infield.
It would be a great story if Gift Ngoepe was to make the majors at some point. however, even if he is in AA, Ngoepe appears to be far from ready to make that leap.