Gift Ngoepe Called Up by Pirates, Becomes 1st African-Born Player in MLB History

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2017

BRADENTON, FL - MARCH 19:  Gift Ngoepe #61 of the Pittsburgh Pirates runs during a spring training game against the Toronto Blue Jays at LECOM Park on March 19, 2017 in Bradenton, Florida.  (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Pirates called up Gift Ngoepe on Wednesday and optioned pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas, according to Kyle Glaser of Baseball America and MLB Roster Moves.

Ngoepe will be both the first South African and African-born player in MLB history, per MLB.com's Adam Berry (via Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports).

Ngoepe, 27, signed with the Pirates in 2008 and has established himself as a solid-fielding prospect who has struggled at the plate. This season, he is hitting just .241 with a home run and four RBI in 15 games for Triple-A Indianapolis.

Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote: "Ngoepe has been the best defensive infielder in the Pirates' system for a while. He has smooth actions, a strong arm and good hands; Josh Bell once said that while he rarely sees the plays Ngoepe makes because he is running to first base to field the throw, he can tell by the crowd's reaction how good the play was."

Brink added that Ngoepe, formerly a switch-hitter, has focused on hitting from the right side of the plate this season and has shown improvement in the process. That may have been inspired by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.

"I believe this is a man, as I told him, I said you can either be a guy that's going to get called up when people get hurt, or you can go down, you can put a game plan together on offense and you can come up and play another 10 years in the big leagues," Hurdle said in spring training, per Brink. "That's really in your control."

While Ngoepe is a shortstop by trade, he could also play second base and third base in a reserve role. The Pirates team have committed 19 errors, tied for the worst mark in baseball, so adding a fielding whiz like Ngoepe was a logical move.  

With David Freese and Adam Frazier both injured, Ngoepe should see playing time for the Pirates.  

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