Infielder Gift Ngoepe
Gift Ngoepe made history when he debuted on April 26th, 2017. He was the first South African born player to debut in Major League Baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates had signed Ngoepe years prior, way back in 2008. He was mostly a light-hitting infielder with a good ability to run and a respectable on-base percentage. Despite his poor bat, he was mostly known for his outstanding glove work at shortstop, second base, and third base.
Ngoepe only played 28 games with 63 plate appearances in 2017 with the Bucs. He collected 12 hits including 2 doubles and a triple. On the plus side, he did have 8 walks leading to a solid .323 OBP. All told, his teure in the majors with the Pirates saw him have a .619 OPS, .281 wOBA, and 71 wRC+. Though he did provide quality defense when he was given the chance to take the field.
After the 2017 season, the Toronto Blue Jays purchased his contract from the Pirates, but he would only go on to appear in 13 more MLB games and recieve just 19 plate appearances. He had just 1 hit and 1 walk through his final games. He was eventually released by the Jays in August of 2018, which would be the last time he would appear in the major leagues.
Ngoepe latched on with the Philadelphia Phillies in January 2019, but was released by the other Pennsylvania team in mid-June of that year. The Pittsburgh Pirates back into the mix to serve as organization depth. However, the infielder never saw the MLB again with either team. After his short second stint with the Pirates, Ngoepe played some in the Australian league and the Atlantic League.
If you went to any Washington Wild Things games this year, a Frontier League team located just about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, you may have seen Ngoepe play. He got regular playing time as one of the Equipe Quebec infielders and hit quite well. In 82 games and 327 plate appearances, Ngoepe had a .281/.377/.464 batting line. He stole 12 bags and hit 9 home runs, which tied a single-season career high for him (notably, when he hit 9 home runs previsously, he did in in over 120 games and in at least 500 plate appearances).
Gift Ngoepe may have been in the majors for the Pirates for just a handful of games, but he’s an interesting footnote in the history of the franchise and the history of the sport. He’s the first South African MLB player. Lots of players can’t say that they are their country’s first ever representative at the sport’s highest level, but Ngoepe can.