Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of South Africa as a 17-year-old in 2015, RHP Vince Deyzel has since then slowly acclimated himself to living in the United States, as well as his new life as a professional pitcher.
Growing up in the city of Durban, Deyzel was part of both South Africa’s Elite Athlete Development Programme and MLB’s African Elite Camp. He began playing the game around age 14, and progressed quickly, joining the U14 team representing KwaZulu-Natal for the IRT Tournament, as well as the U16 and U18 teams as the years went by. Deyzel was part of the U16 team that won Africa’s World Cup Qualifier round, and he was subsequently selected for the U18 team to compete in the Baseball World Cup in 2015.
Deyzel spent much of that first year in Bradenton, working out at the minor-league camp for the Pirates. In 2016, he was sent to the Gulf Coast League, where he made 11 appearances (17 innings), allowing 14 runs (10 earned) on 18 hits, walking 16 and striking out 13 batters.
He returned in 2017, when he made 16 appearances and pitched 28 innings. While he allowed 17 runs and walked another 16 batters, he also earned three saves and three holds on the season while once again striking out thirteen batters. Deyzel began trending toward becoming a ground-ball pitcher, inducing a 56% ground-ball rate. While his ERA was rather high (5.46), he also finished with a paltry .216 BAA and induced infield pop-ups 24% of the time.
Also worth noting was Deyzel’s selection as one of eight players in Pittsburgh’s organization (one from each team in the chain) to receive the Pirates Community Commitment Award.
Advancing to the Appalachian League Bristol Pirates to begin 2018, Deyzel is off to a very good start. In ten appearances (16 1/3 IP), he has struck out fourteen batters and allowed only a .203 BAA, while stranding 75% of opposing base-runners. His walk rate is still higher than would be ideal (9 BB), but he has been able to pitch around them, so far.
Deyzel is a submariner, working with a fastball that sits around 86-88 and a sweeping curve to keep hitters off balance. For the Pirates, he represents only the second player from South Africa signed by the organization, but he was joined almost immediately by IF Victor Ngoepe, younger brother of Gift Ngoepe, the first South African to appear in the Major Leagues.
I had the opportunity to speak with Deyzel about his early experiences in baseball, how his home country compares with ours, and the figures in his life that have made the most enduring impressions.
CR: Tell me a little bit about your experience in baseball back in South Africa. Has anyone made an impression on you, as far as coaches or players you’ve known?
VD: Coaches that had a big impact on me back in South Africa were Deon Pretorius and Derek Nyland.
Coach Nyland, because he gave me my first opportunity in baseball. I had just started playing for one of our local club teams, and the selection for our provincial team was about to happen. In order to be eligible for selection, you have to have played at least six games. I had only played three, but Coach Nyland believed in me and put me on the team despite all the parents complaining about me not having played enough games and saying I had been put ahead of their sons on our B team by being promoted to the A team in U14.
I understand it wasn’t exactly fair on the guys who played the entire season but I’m thankful he did do that because it changed my life because that tournament was where I discovered I wanted to play baseball for the rest of my life. We went on to win that tournament as well.
Coach Pretorius, because he was always giving me encouragement, telling me I’m going to go far in the game, and telling me not to worry about all the people bringing me down. He told me to ignore people who were telling me I’m wasting my time or that I’m never going to make it, and that positive reinforcement really kept my hopes up and kept me going.
Coach Nina because he was always pushing me to be strong and train harder, and I know most people kind of took it the wrong way and felt irritated and agitated, but it motivated me and made me want to push myself and train as hard as I could. It made me want to train harder than everyone else.
Coach Elarton, because he is probably one of the most knowledgeable and wisest coaches I’ve met. He has helped me tremendously with my mechanics. Because of him, I’ve slowly made some progress towards becoming a pitcher rather than just a thrower.
CR: Among those who have been especially helpful to you along the way, who would you say has been the most influential?
VD: One of the most influential people in my baseball career has to be my best friend, Grant Cant. He did for me all of the things I’ve mentioned about Coaches Nyland, Pretorius and Nina. He was also sort of like Elarton, in that he gave me great life advice. Probably would’ve given me great baseball advice, too, but unfortunately, in South Africa, most of us only know the bare minimum about baseball.
Grant believed in me from the start, and never doubted me once. On top of that, he was an amazing best friend. He made the game of baseball fun for me, and no matter how or what we did on the field, we’d always have a good time and be laughing non-stop.
CR: Have you had any particularly notable highs and/or lows as a pro, so far?
VD: I’ve definitely have highs and lows in baseball. Some of my highs came when I learned something new and it worked well for the first time. I love to learn new skills, gain new knowledge; it makes me feel as if I’m making progress.
Some of my low points would definitely be when I’ve had consecutive bad games. My mind would always go to the worst possible thing: “I’m going to be released.” I don’t know why, but after a few bad games in a row, the reality of knowing I could lose my job at any moment really hits me.
CR: Do you have any particular interests or hobbies, away from the field?
VD: I wouldn’t say I have any special interests, but as far as hobbies go, I would say I’m like most baseball players: I enjoy playing a bit of PlayStation/Xbox.
CR: What led you to baseball, in the first place?
VD: It’s kind of a funny story because as I mentioned earlier Grant Cant was the most important influence in my life.
His younger brother, Shaun, and I grew up together. We went to school together and lived right by each other, and we were always best friends. One day, Shaun’s baseball team was short of players and he asked me if I wanted to come play. I ended up playing two games, I think, after that game, and my mom said I was playing too many sports and I had to stop.
Two years later, the same thing happened. His team was short of players, and so I came back. I have been playing ever since, and when I really got involved in baseball, that’s when Grant and I started bonding over the game. We trained almost everyday together, just pushing ourselves to get better. So I ended up being best friends with both brothers.
I haven’t seen them much at all since I came to America, but I’m sure one day we’ll be together again.
CR: Is baseball gaining in popularity, from what you’ve seen in your home country?
VD: Baseball has not become a popular sport at all in South Africa; in my area, it is slowly dying, year by year. There’s just not been any funding or promotion/advertising for the game, so barely anyone even knows we play.
CR: How does South Africa compare with the United States, in your experience?
VD: South Africa is way different. There is a lot more poverty, now, all around. There are people begging, at every traffic light.
The economy is getting worse and worse, every year. People in the middle class can barely afford to treat themselves, once in a while, and people in the lower class can barely afford to feed themselves and their families. Racism is still very much there in South Africa, and I think it’s getting progressively worse as the years go by and our economy gets worse.
People in South Africa just feel as if they’re not to blame, and if there’s a problem it’s always someone else’s fault; they just struggle to take ownership of their own actions. That being said, that obviously doesn’t go for every South African, but a good amount of them. Because of the crime rate, every South African has become very aware of their surroundings, and has become very cautious. We have to be on guard 24/7, or else we might get robbed or mugged, possibly even worse. America doesn’t have all those problems.
South Africa isn’t all bad, of course. There is such beautiful scenery, there. Some of it is quite breathtaking. There is also a wide variety of food choices; the food there tastes so good. Like, really good quality food. And when one of our national teams plays, the whole country is supporting them no matter how good or bad they do. You see so many people on game day wearing their South Africa jerseys or shirts; the famous “green and gold”. People in South Africa are also very respectful and polite.
CR: What are some things about this country that have stood out, for you?
VD: People are really friendly, here, and easy to talk to, usually. There are some times when people seem to lack respect and manners, but it’s not out of control.
The economy here in America is incredible. You could live such a comfortable life just being a waiter, but that’s just me. I’ve never had a strong desire (for material things); I always believed happiness and my faith were way more important than anything. Money can’t buy happiness, and no matter how much money you have, how you use however much you have is what’s important.
The culture here is also very different. Americans are very open and trusting. I am still not at that point yet, myself, mainly because of my upbringing, but I’m getting there.