Born: January 18, 1990
Height: 5′ 10″
Signed: Int. FA, Pittsburgh Pirates, 2008
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|The Pirates signed the 18-year-old Ngoepe after watching him in a tournament in Italy. The signing at least shows the Pirates are becoming more aggressive in searching for talent, an attitude that was completely lacking under the previous regime. He’s very athletic, with excellent speed, quickness and agility, and a good arm. He’s gained considerable attention, including a Sports Illustrated article, by virtue of being the first black South African to sign a US pro baseball contract, but it’s not a stunt. The Pirates consider him a legitimate prospect, with some reason.
The Pirates brought Ngoepe to the GCL for his first year, where he served as the regular secondbaseman and usually as the leadoff hitter. He played a dozen games at short. He had only six errors total, a low number for middle infielder in rookie ball. Ngoepe was hitting around .300 in mid-July but slumped after that. He showed a willingness to take walks, but he fanned in nearly a third of his ABs and didn’t hit for any power.
Ngoepe moved up to State College and started off at second, later moving to short. He showed outstanding potential defensively, with excellent range and athleticism, as well as enough arm for short. He has the speed to steal a lot of bases, although his technique needs work. Things didn’t go as well at bat. Ngoepe seemed to be making progress, hitting for decent average and drawing lots of walks, until about mid-July. At that point, opponents started throwing him offspeed stuff almost exclusively and he couldn’t handle it at all. From the beginning of August on, he hit .118 with 34 Ks in 85 ABs.
Ngoepe opened at West Virginia, sharing the middle infield spots with Drew Maggi. Early in the season he showed signs of a complete turnaround with the bat. He cut his K rate to one every six ABs and even hit for good power. Unfortunately, he suffered a hamate injury and missed the rest of the season except for an aborted rehab stint in the GCL in mid-July.
Ngoepe moved up to Bradenton, which may have been a difficult move given how little time he had in low A. He didn’t retain the improvement he showed in 2011, aside from a surprising number of HRs. He struck out far too often as he continued to struggle with offspeed stuff. He did show a willingness to take a walk. He seemed to be making progress when he hit .313 in July, but he slumped to .141 in August and September. He hit just .214 from the left side, compared to .242 from the right side, but two-thirds of his HRs came left-handed. The Pirates kept him at short nearly all the time and he continued to show excellent range and a good arm. His defense was good enough to get him ranked by Baseball America as the 20th best prospect in the league.
The Pirates sent Ngoepe to Altoona, where he was the regular at short for the bulk of the season. He struggled severely with higher level offspeed stuff, fanning in nearly 40% of his ABs. The one positive sign was a good walk rate. Ngoepe missed most of July, unfortunately due to the death of his mother. When he returned, the Pirates sent him to Bradenton. He hit far better after that and got on base at a prodigious rate, but he continued to strike out almost 40% of the time.
The Pirates sent Ngoepe to the Arizona Fall League and he struggled badly at the plate there as well. They subsequently chose not to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. The team regards him as a major league talent on defense, but his severe problems with off speed stuff raise major doubts whether he can ever hit well enough to hold a major league job. It’s tempting to seek comfort in his hitting after he went back down to Bradenton in 2013, but the extremely high K rate indicates that the improvement may not mean much. It’s possible Ngoepe will get selected in the draft despite his hitting problems, as defense-only shortstops sometimes do get picked. If he’s still around he should return to Altoona, but at least at the start of the season Alen Hanson will probably be there, so Ngoepe won’t be able to play shortstop.
|2014: Minor League Contract|
|Signing Bonus: $15,000
MiLB Debut: 2009
MLB Debut: N/A
MiLB FA Eligible: 2015
MLB FA Eligible: N/A
Rule 5 Eligible: 2013
Added to 40-Man: N/A
Options Remaining: 3
MLB Service Time: 0.000
|September 29, 2008: Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an international free agent.|