Despite Strong Spring, Gift Ngoepe Has No Spot On Pirate Roster


Despite having a scorching hot spring at the plate, utility infielder Gift Ngoepe still has no spot on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ roster.

Every year in Spring Training each Major League team has a player or two that comes out of seemingly nowhere to have a great month offensively. This year in Spring Training Jose Osuna has largely been viewed as that player for the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, infielder Gift Ngoepe has fit this bill as well.

Most of the time the players who burst onto the scene in Spring Training the way Jose Osuna and Gift Ngoepe have this season they almost never repeat their offensive success moving forward. Just look at Matt Hague‘s 2012 Spring Training for example.

Throughout his Minor League career, infielder Gift Ngoepe has been known for his plus defense and less than stellar bat. Ngoepe has mostly played shortstop in the Minor Leagues. At shortstop, his glove is Gold Glove caliber.

In recent years he has also played third base and second base. While he is not as slick a fielder at these positions as he is at shortstop, he is still very good. This spring, Ngoepe has gotten reps at all three positions.

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Gift Ngoepe has accumulated 2,718 career Minor League plate appearances. He owns a .232/.322/.346/.669 slash line in the Minor Leagues. Despite a strong 10.6 percent walk rate, he also owns a 26.8 percent strikeout rate. Anytime a Minor League hitter is that poor in the Minors, that does not bode well for their Major League future.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Gift Ngoepe has been red hot at the plate in Grapefruit League play. Outside of a 28 game sample size at High-A in 2013 (148 wRC+) this has been the best month of Ngoepe’s professional career. However, it remains a very small sample size.

In 41 plate appearances this spring Gift Ngoepe is 15-for-37 (.405 average) with a .463 on-base percentage, one double, and one triple. Rightfully so, this has caught the eye of a lot of Pirate fans this spring.

When you take a deeper look at Ngoepe’s stats this spring, you see a lot of things are not sustainable. First off, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .600 this spring. The Major League average for BABIP is .300, so a BABIP of .600 indicates that Ngoepe has been extremely lucky and that he is due for major regression.

Secondly, Gift Ngoepe has continued to strikeout far too much. In Grapefruit League play he owns a 29.2 percent strikeout rate. Any time a hitter has a high BABIP and a high strikeout rate, they are going to regress, and, odds are, that will regression will come sooner rather than later.

While what Gift Ngoepe has done at the plate this spring has been impressive, he still remains without a spot on Pittsburgh’s Opening Day roster. His 8-year Minor League offensive output carries much more weight than the small sample size that has been the past month worth of Spring Training games.

Entering Spring Training it looked like Ngoepe might be able to make the team due to his ability to play shortstop. The Pirates were searching for backup shortstop, and it appeared Gift Ngoepe might be the only bench option that could play shortstop. However, that is no longer the case.

While none of them are as good defensively as Ngoepe is, Adam Frazier, Alen Hanson, and Phil Gosselin have all shown they can play shortstop if need be. Combine this with these three being better hitters than Ngoepe, and any chance Ngoepe had of making the Opening Day roster no longer exist.

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Is it possible that Gift Ngoepe has turned a corner as a hitter? Well, sure it is. But is it likely? No, no it is not. More than likely this spring is nothing more than anomaly offensively for Gift Ngoepe.

It is very possible that Gift Ngoepe makes his Major League debut in 2017. His strong showing this spring may contribute to this. However, he does not have a spot on the roster to start the regular season.