Blue Jays: How much rope does Gift Ngoepe have left?
The Toronto Blue Jays are fresh off a three game (in two day) sweep of the Kansas City Royals in emphatic fashion. There has been a lot of good on this team to start the 2018 campaign, but Gift Ngoepe has struggled mightily to start the season as the backup middle infielder. How much rope does Ngoepe have? It may not be a whole lot longer.
With Josh Donaldson and Kendrys Morales both on the DL, it’s allowed for Teoscar Hernandez to come up while Steve Pearce and Curtis Granderson take over as the primary DH. It’s also given super-utility man Yangervis Solarte, who’s off to a great start, a chance to see the field everyday at 3rd base, with Aledmys Diaz at short and Devon Travis at 2nd. That leaves Gift Ngoepe as the only backup middle infielder as opposed to a combo of Travis, Solarte, occasionally Diaz, and Ngoepe on the bench for the middle infield.
This has led to a few more at-bats for Gift Ngoepe and even more so during the Royals series with the extremely rare home doubleheader on Tuesday. Ngoepe is off to a brutal start offensively, and although we all knew he’d be a glove only guy, the struggles are pretty ugly right now with a K% of 58.8%, a slash line of .063/.118/.063, and a wRC+ of -53. His fWAR in a small sample size is -0.3.
It’s all a very small sample size, but Ngoepe in 2017 with the Pittsburgh Pirates struck out 41.3% of the time in 60 at bats with a slashline of .222/.323/.296 and a wRC+ of 71. He did walk in 12.7% of his at-bats, but so far in 2018 he has not shown the ability to take four balls.
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Gift Ngoepe is a glove-only guy essentially. We haven’t seen his range tested to much thus far but when he’s been in, his arm has been very impressive. He gets balls over to the 1st baseman on a rope and I’ve been quite impressed. If Ngoepe doesn’t turn things around even marginally with the bat soon, he may not be around in the bigs for much longer even after Josh Donaldson returns from the DL.
The Blue Jays have seasoned veteran Danny Espinosa down in Buffalo. Buffalo has barely played so far in 2018 due to the crazy weather experienced in the area, so his sample size is small still, but larger than Ngoepe’s. Espinosa has a great glove as well, but a poor bat with lots of swing and miss, and Espinosa has quite a powerful bat. There is also Richard Urena and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the system, but I’m operating under the assumption the first middle-infielder to get a chance will be Espinosa. If he doesn’t bring anything, it’s Gurriel time.
I’d very much expect for Gift Ngoepe to be given the chance to turn it around once Josh Donaldson is back. It’s not often Ngoepe will have to hit as he will be in primarily as a defensive replacement in the later innings. However, he will need to have some better at-bats when called upon. I’d imagine Ngoepe will at least have until the beginning of May to allow for some more plate appearances for both him and Danny Espinosa down in Buffalo. Once May rolls around, the Blue Jays can decide how much longer Ngoepe sticks around if his atbats don’t improve.
If Ngoepe continues to struggle, it’s likely he would sneak through waivers and go down to the Buffalo Bisons. Espinosa will need to be called up and added to the 40 man roster. Ngoepe would be DFA’d to make room for Espinosa if this situation plays out. If Espinosa starts to hit in Buffalo and Ngoepe continues to struggle, the leash may not extend much further beyond the beginning of May.