The Pittsburgh Pirates announced on Monday evening that they have traded infielder Gift Ngoepe to the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later or cash considerations.
Ngoepe become the first African-born player to make the majors this year when he was called up at the end of April. In 28 games, he hit .222/.323/.296, while handling all 77 chances in the field without an error. Ngoepe has always been known for his strong defense, which was considered to be the best in the system at shortstop. He has never hit in the minors though, with strikeouts becoming a major issue at the higher levels.
The Pirates are very strong at the shortstop position in the minors with Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker in the upper levels, along with Kevin Kramer seeing time there this fall and impressing the Pirates with his ability to play the spot. They also have Max Moroff, who can backup Jordy Mercer this year. Defensively, all of them are below Ngoepe, but they all make up for that with their offensive potential. The Pirates also have numerous shortstop prospects in the lower level, so the loss of Ngoepe won’t hurt the team long-term or short-term.
In 200 games at Triple-A, the 27-year-old Ngoepe has hit .221/.295/.362, with 236 strikeouts in 743 plate appearances. His OPS in 2+ seasons at Double-A was just eight points higher, and while he had a better strikeout rate, it wasn’t that good either. Ngoepe’s peak is what we saw with the Pirates this year. He’s someone who can play Gold Glove caliber defense at shortstop and has looked above average in limited time at both second base and third base. The inability to make contact will likely keep him from ever being a Major League starter, but his speed and defense make him a solid bench option.