The Pittsburgh Pirates have signed infielder Gift Ngoepe to a minor league deal. Ngoepe was with the Philadelphia Phillies this season, playing for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, before being released six days ago. He was hitting .221/.296/.410 through 41 games at the time.
The 29-year-old Ngoepe spent his first nine seasons of pro ball with the Pirates, making it to the majors in 2017, as the first African-born player to reach the highest level. He hit .222/.323/.296 in 28 games with the Pirates in 2017. He was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays prior to the 2018 season and went 1-for-18 in 13 games, spending most of the year in Triple-A before being released in mid-August. He signed a minor league free agent deal with the Phillies back in January.
Ngoepe will provide minor league depth, which has been tested recently with injuries to Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pablo Reyes and Jake Elmore. Hunter Owen left Monday’s game early after a hit-by-pitch near his wrist, so that might be something to watch as well. Ngoepe is a plus defender at shortstop, who always plays well at third base and second base. He has above average speed and some power in his bat, but has always been held back by his strikeouts. More than half of his Major League at-bats have ended in strikeouts, so his real value to a team is as a bench player with the strong defense, speed and some versatility. His younger brother Victor Ngoepe is currently with Morgantown. The older Ngoepe will start off with Altoona.