Prospect Highlights: Homer From Gift Ngoepe, Hits From Polanco and Lambo

In yesterday’s Prospect Highlights, the focus was the season that Gift Ngoepe is having at the plate. His defense is already Major League ready and his speed will be an asset, but coming into the 2014 season, it looked like his bat could keep him from reaching his big league dreams. He had a tough time in AA last year, then really struggled in the Arizona Fall League. The results are good early on, with Ngoepe drawing 17 walks in 21 games, which helps push his OPS to the .824 mark, third best behind Stetson Allie and Elias Diaz on the Altoona roster.

We also have a couple highlights from the Indianapolis game, starting with the guy leading the International League in two Triple Crown categories. Gregory Polanco has a .400 average and on this infield hit, he drove in his 24th run of the season. Polanco easily beats out this soft grounder to second base.

The other RBI in the 2-1 Indianapolis win on Sunday came off the bat of Andrew Lambo. He has driven in runs in four straight games. Not much here, a soft grounder just like Polanco hit, although Lambo’s wasn’t fielded cleanly, so there was no play. It gives us a chance to highlight the season that Lambo is having. In 70 at-bats, he is hitting .343 with a .939 OPS. On a team filled with players that have major league experience, Lambo only trails Polanco in OPS. Lambo is 102 points ahead of the next best Indianapolis player (Chris Dickerson) in OPS.

John Dreker

Author: John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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  • DG Lewis

    Polanco is only leading the league in TWO triple crown categories? No wonder the FO says he’s not ready. #bust

  • piraddict

    The videos are great John, thanks!
    Do you have an opinion on how much to de-rate BA or OPS performance at AA or AAA to estimate MLB performance? In other words, what would you estimate Ngoepe’s or Lambo’s MLB stats would be if the were promoted to the Pirates based on how they are performing today at the level they re at?
    Of course players abilities can grow withy time if they haven’t hit their ceiling. What do you estimate that Ngoepe or Lambo might be able to do in MLB in 2015?

    • John Dreker

      I don’t think there is a good method to measure what AAA numbers translate to in the majors. If Ngoepe can continue to draw walks and cut down on his strikeouts, then he should be able to make the majors at some point. His glove and speed can already be an asset off the bench, plus he is a switch-hitter that can play both middle infield spots well, so I could see him making the majors at some point. He probably won’t be a starting option, but the way Clint Barmes hits, most people would say that about him too and he can’t run like Ngoepe.

      I’m sure we will see Lambo at some point and since he is back in the outfield, if any outfielder goes down before early June, Lambo would be the most likely option to replace them. Otherwise he may just be a lefty power bat off the bench in September.

      • piraddict

        Looking over Ngoepe’s history it seems that when he is first promoted a level he to too aggressive and strikes out too much. This has happened at every level. Then he settles in, is more patient, cuts down on the strike outs and his OPS goes to .800 or better. This says to me that his struggles at the bat have been over mental approach, he can be over anxious, which is fixable. I am encouraged by Gift. Years ago Matty Alou was a pedestrian hitter until Harry (the Hat) Walker taught him to beat the ball into the ground to the left side, or bloop the ball into left field (Alou was a LHH). Alou went on to win a batting title hitting around .342 if I remember correctly. Gift could be a Matty Alou kind of guy if the right hitting coach will work with him and he could be a great leadoff hitter in 2H 2015. Given his history of slow adjustments the Pirates need to promote him to Indy at the end of this May so he can solve his expected strikeout problem in AAA this year. Then it’s to the Dominican this winter, a good Spring and start in AAA next year and into the Pirates starting lineup after the All Star break. There is really no one blocking him at the MLB or AAA level. People tend to like Hnason, but Hanson has struggled at the plate in AA for over a year now, and his defense is not as well reputed as Gift’s. Go Gift!

        • John Dreker

          Hanson is also almost two years younger than Ngoepe, so there is a big difference in that regard. I’m sure by the end of the year, Hanson will have the better stats on offense as he has much more potential with the bat. One projects as a major league regular, while the other has the ceiling of a bench player, so there is a big difference between the two players

          • piraddict

            Alen had a very good year at WV in 2012. Since then, through two promotions, he has fared progressively worse. The K/BB ratio has progressively worsened. I am not saying he won’t figure it out, I hope he does. But he hasn’t yet shown the bounce backs from a slow starts that Gift has. Is your projection on ceiling based on the apparent power in the bat? If so I favor OBP over SLG from the SS position (though power is nice to have). If you compare the stats from after Gift figures it out to Alen’s stats Gift’s OBP is a lot better than Alen’s, and with the exception of Alen’s 2012 WV line the SLG is about the same. I think it is possible that Gift’s ceiling is as high or higher than Alen’s.

        • stickyweb

          Well, Hanson’s had 55 games at AA, with an OPS around .660. Before this years hot streak, Gift had 72 games at AA with a .560 OPS, and he’s 3 years older than Hanson.
          Yes Ngoepe has the more reliable defense, but by most accounts, Hanson has the athletic ability, he just needs to work on the mental aspect and consistency.
          As much as I love to see Gift make progress, at least with better BB and K%s, it’s way too early to fast track him to PGH based on 3 weeks of taking walks.

          • piraddict

            Sticky, looking at a couple of years of stats:
            2011 WV .818
            2012 BRD .668
            2013 BRD .851
            2013 ALT .560
            2014 ALT .824
            Gift adjusts slowly, but he figures it out, primarily by reducing his strikeout rate (patience).
            With Gift coming from South Africa and Alen coming from the Carribean Alen may have more years of playing baseball than Gift, inspite of their age differences. But the age difference is an important point.

            • WTM

              I’ve seen Gift hit, including this year. If he reaches the majors, it’ll be strictly on his glove. I can’t ever see him as more than a glove-only backup. He’s helpless against softer stuff. The adjustment he makes is that he gets better at laying off changeups and curves, but he can’t hit them at all. That’s why his K rate is still about one every three and a half ABs. He’s not going to be able to hit pitchers who can throw the offspeed and breaking stuff for strikes. He’s not going to have the high walk rate he has now against upper level pitchers. His issue isn’t really patience, it’s the ability to make contact with something other than a fastball.

              • piraddict

                The whole Pirates team can’t hit a MLB pitcher who throws breaking balls for strikes (ex: their last game against Wainwright), so Gift will fit right in.
                I appreciate your mentioning his struggles with contact on breaking stuff. Apparently he still has recognition problems. At least he must have bat speed to get around on the fastball. If he can adopt a Matty Alou style and just take a hack at the offspeed stuff maybe he can overcome the problem. I still like the fact that he an find a 400 OBP, whether through walks or not. In my opinion the ideal lead off hitter goes 0 for 0 with five walks, each walk after a ten pitch at bat. Fifty pitches wasted on a liteweght and he still got on base!

        • Y2JGQ2

          Hanson over a year in AA? Check when he was promoted, not even close to a year yet. Plus, he isn’t exactly stuggling anymore, he’s holding his own

          • piraddict

            OK, Look like he’ll need to get to the end of July before he gats a year in, but it doesn’t look like he is holding his own (OPS>.700) yet.

      • R Edwards

        Unfortunately John, you are probably right about Lambo. The Pirates have hitched their wagon to Ike Davis at first base – sink or swim. He cannot be optioned out, even if he is hitting .180 on Mothers Day. We’re stuck with him, regardless of how poorly he produces. They would have to waive or cut him, which they probably won’t due given the apparent high price they are paying for this guy. How embarrassing would it be if Davis hitting under .200 when the team announces the “significant piece” going to the Mets??

        This past off season, and now into this season, have not been a good one for Huntington and the organization. Traded for Chris Stewart for no apparent reason – who makes Barmes look like a slugger…..when we have a former #1 pick who is 25, pushing 26, ready to backup, pinch hit, and prepare for maybe starting next year. Traded a decent first base prospect (Alex Dickerson) for Jaff Decker – when this team and organization is overloaded with outfielders – why? The last time I looked, Decker wasn’t even starting at Indy and was hitting under .200. Now, Ike Davis.

        • John Dreker

          At least with Dickerson(and unfortunately for him), he is out until at least August and possibly the whole season and it was a pre-existing problem he would have had if he stayed. Operation to remove a cyst on his heel.

        • DG Lewis

          > Traded for Chris Stewart for no apparent reason

          So you’re saying you’d be happier with Nevin Ashley as our backup catcher until Martin comes off the DL?

          > Traded a decent first base prospect (Alex Dickerson) for Jaff Decker

          This is the Alex Dickerson who has an .827 career OPS in the minor leagues? (Players in the Pirates organization with a higher OPS in AA/AAA last year included Justin Howard, Andrew Lambo, Tony Sanchez, and Ivan deJesus.)

          > when this team and organization is overloaded with outfielders – why?

          An outfielder can easily move to first base. A first baseman can not so easily move to the outfield.

          > The last time I looked, Decker wasn’t even starting at Indy and was hitting under .200.

          The last time I looked, Dickerson hadn’t even played a game in the Padres organization because of an injury.

          • R Edwards

            >So you’re saying you’d be happier with Nevin Ashley as our backup catcher until Martin comes off the DL?

            Nice try…my issue is/was that Stewart was on the 25 man roster, instead of Sanchez. As soon as Martin returns, I would send down Stewart. He cannot hit. He’s supposed to be a great defensive catcher, yet made two errors in one game last week.

            >This is the Alex Dickerson who has an .827 career OPS in the minor leagues? (Players in the Pirates organization with a higher OPS in AA/AAA last year included Justin Howard, Andrew Lambo, Tony Sanchez, and Ivan deJesus.)

            Yes, the same Dickerson who the Pirates drafted in what – the second or third round? So, I guess they cannot scout since he is so bad a player? He drove in over 90 runs and hit close to .300 in his first full season in the system, and last year had a very solid year – in spite of the fact he played on very weak teams both years and played in ballparks not conducive to hitting a lot of HRs. Even though he may not have been Lou Gehrig, he played a position that we are sorely lacking – especially at the higher levels. And to trade him for a career minor league outfielder – which we don’t need and he has zero chance of playing in Pittsburgh anytime soon.

            >An outfielder can easily move to first base. A first baseman can not so easily move to the outfield.

            Yes, we are going to move 5’10″ Decker to first base – great idea.

            >The last time I looked, Dickerson hadn’t even played a game in the Padres organization because of an injury.

            So Dickerson is a now a failure because he is hurt this year? Being out due to injury is hardly the same as being fully healthy and not being any good. Decker is healthy, and is hitting less than .200 and doesn’t even start most games anymore. I was viewing this trade beyond 2014 – don’t be so short sighted. If we needed to call up an outfielder due to an injury, Decker is way down on the list…. I would rather have Polanco, Chris Dickerson or Rojas in my outfield before Decker.

            • leowalter

              Dickerson’s BB rate was much too low at the AA level. And that is pretty much the predictor of a weak MLB prospect. That’s not me,thats the way those people look at players.

              • R Edwards

                Interesting…so all players future success is determined bu one metric?? I’m not saying that here isn’t some statistical support or validity to it, but it seems a little extreme to make that kind of judgment on all players. I am not going to bother to take the time research it, but i suspect there are some top players in MLB who also had low BB rates in AA.

                • leowalter

                  Check it out then,don’t take my word for it. I’m not sure, but I think Fangraphs even had a column on it last Winter,but I didn’t bookmark it.

          • Y2JGQ2

            Jaff Decker has no ability to play first base- That’s just a ridiculous statement, Decker is roughly the size of Gregg Jefferies. DeJesus is a good hitter at every level, and comparing him to two other solid prospects in Sanchez and Lambo doesn’t really help your argument. Even if someone is touting the bible of OPS as the holy grail for hitting, an .828 OPS is pretty good. Look at our lineup right now, how many people are above that?

            • DG Lewis

              You’re both missing the point. It’s not that Decker could move to first base – it’s that there are multiple other guys in the Pirates’ system who could move to first base, like Lambo. Dickerson’s OPS was behind two other potential first basemen at the same or higher levels in the Pirates’ system (Lambo and Howard). He was a spare part.

              Expecting a team to hold onto a player simply because he was drafted in the second or third round is the height of foolishness, and claiming that a third round draftee being of more value as a trade piece than being kept in the system shows that “they cannot scout” is a complete strawman argument.

              • leowalter

                You made a better case than I did DG. That was EXACTLY Dickerson’s problem ( OPS ),though his defense was lacking also.

  • WTM

    Sad how many MiL announcers and public address types mispronounce Gift’s last name. You’d think some of them would just ask somebody.

    • John Dreker

      Someone asked me yesterday about his name and apparently Gift himself told people it was n-GO-peh. Keith Law wrote something about him after talking to him in the AFL and he spelled it out like that and when someone corrected him, he said it was straight from Ngoepe and that’s why he put the pronunciation. For years, we heard it the other way “n-WEE-pay”, so who knows.

      • leowalter

        The stadium announcer in Altoona ,Rich DiLeo,pronounces it the way you have it there John, and I am sure he got it from Gift.

        • John Dreker

          I’m guessing he may have changed it on his own at some point because both pronunciations came right from Gift, so unless he says otherwise, either seems acceptable for now.

          • DG Lewis

            I suspect he resigned himself to the fact that no one will ever pronounce it right and went with something that is at least wrong the same way all the time.

            • John Dreker

              That could very well be true because half my family pronounces my last name different than the other half. I’ll try to find out directly from Gift which he prefers.

              • DG Lewis

                Sesotho-speaking PA announcers are the new market inefficiency.

              • leowalter

                I have relatives that say their last name is ” Walters ” ! Go figure any of it.

  • marty34156

    Serious question, who is the better MLB SS right now. Gift, or Jordy? Because Jordy absolutely, positively, sucks.

    • stickyweb

      Jordy is. And it’s not even close.

      • leowalter

        Wrong answer sticky. Have you seen Gift very often ?

        • stickyweb

          No leo, honestly I’ve never seen him before the recent Prospect Highlight videos (thanks John) and was pretty surprised by how stocky he is. From the the last couple of years’ scouting reports, I assumed an Ozzie Smith body type. Has he hit the weights the last year or two? That could provide hope the hitting will continue.
          But I do know he’s 24 years old and this year’s 64 ABs is the first success he’s had above Hi A. I also know Jordy’s 27 years old and has had prior success in MLB. So since Marty specified “right now”, the answer is defintiely Jordy, no matter how frustrated we all are by his slow start.

    • John Dreker

      Defensively it would be Gift, but there is very little chance he would have done better at the plate than Mercer has up this point and over the long run, it’s not close. Being 100% honest, I’d be shocked if Ngoepe has a better major league career than Mercer has had up to this point.

      • marty34156

        I know Gift hasn’t hit much in the past, but Jordy hasn’t really hit in the Majors. OPS vs RHP lifetime is right around .600, and his numbers vs LHP deluted by having a BABIP over .4000 against them last year. Plus, as you said, defensively Gift way ahead of Jordy.

        • John Dreker

          It’s a lot to ask of Ngoepe to put up better career numbers than Mercer has because there is a big difference in their bats. Ngoepe may get a manager that likes him on his bench due to his speed/defense/switch-hitting and Ngoepe gets an extended stay in the majors, but there is a much better chance he gets a cup of coffee and that’s it. I’d like to see him stick, but he still has a long way to go, as I pointed out, the start early on is nice, now he needs to continue it over the long haul

    • leowalter

      Defensively marty there s no comparison in my book. Neither Mercer or Hanson come close. But,you know who is at 2nd and who is at SS for Altoona. I think Gift is better defensively at 2nd than Walker to be honest.

      • marty34156

        I’d much rather see Hanson at 2B at Altoona. I don’t see him sticking at SS long term.

        • stickyweb

          Marty, that is the big question, whether Hanson can stick at SS long term. But by all accounts, Gift is almost MLB ready, defense wise, right now. So why not give Hanson the extra reps for the next year or two and see if his focus/concentration can catch up to his athletic ability? If it doesn’t work out, you can always switch him to 2B for a month or 2 before he gets the call up to the show.

        • leowalter

          Hanson’s biggest problem,at least from what that I have seen of him,is that he very seldom charges the ball. He goes to his right very well,not quite as good to his left,but waits on balls that are hit to him. He actually plays those more like a 2nd baseman.And as we all know,that won’t work at the Major League level.