Long-time Pittsburgh Pirates farmhand Gift Ngoepe made history yesterday, becoming the first African-born player to reach the major leagues. He went 1-for-2 with a walk in his first major league game against the Chicago Cubs, getting a hit in his first MLB at-bat. Let’s take a look at what he offers.
Ngoepe is from South Africa, born in Pietersburg (now called Polokwane) South Africa on January 18th, 1990. He grew up in Randburg, where he discovered baseball because his mother worked for a local team. He adopted the sport while most of his countrymen were cricket or soccer players. Ngoepe stood out enough to draw an invitation to an MLB academy in Italy. The Pirates signed him as a free agent in 2008; he was the sixth South African signed by an MLB team but the first of black African heritage.
Listed at 5-8, 200, Ngoepe is a right-handed hitter and thrower. He hit just .217/.289/.355 last year for Triple-A Indianapolis and was at .241/.308/.379 before his promotion to the majors. He is an aggressive hitter and has difficulty making consistent contact against plus stuff, striking out on average once per game throughout his career. He does have some surprising power at times but doesn’t get to it consistently, making him a below-average hitter overall.
On the positive side, Ngoepe has long stood out for his defense, drawing raves for his range, hands, arm strength, and instincts up the middle. He’s certainly an above-average gloveman at shortstop and has been excellent during looks at second base.
Overall Ngoepe projects as a glove-oriented utility man who will knock an occasional extra-base hit but won’t provide much in the way of batting average or OBP. He also provides an inspirational story and is hopefully the first of many more African players to reach the pinnacle of the baseball world.
His first MLB hit: