If you’ve been paying attention to spring training highlights you’ve seen two plays that were “wow” plays from players whose names you might not have recognized. The first was an absolute bomb of a homerun by outfielder Jaff Decker. The other was a pretty sweet stop and throw by shortstop Gift Ngoepe. Both plays showed the potential of these two players which could really help the Pirates going forward.
It’s obvious who the stars are in Pittsburgh currently (McCutchen, Cole, Marte, etc.) and the chosen prospects who may become the next stars in Polanco, Glasnow and Taillon. What would be great though is if some prospects who have high ceilings reach their potential and allow for insurance for the Pirates… or give them some nice trade chips. Jaff and Gift fit that profile.
Most Pirate fans have heard Gift’s story by now. His actual birth on a baseball field, his Zulu South African heritage and interesting name have been written about by just about every media outlet. As a prospect he is also very interesting. He has the following skills:
- Plus glove at SS
- Above average strike-zone recognition
- Above average speed
- Above average power for SS
The patience, power, glove trifecta should have your attention. The problem is that his hitting is so schizophrenic that his speed and power are not getting utilized. The issue was so bad that he was left on the 40 man for the Rule 5 draft and didn’t get picked.
Jaff Decker was more of a known prospect due to his performance and does have his own interesting story.
Decker’s first name is pronounced ‘Jeff’. He was named in honor of his uncle, who died in military service. Decker’s grandfather intended to name his son ‘Jeff’, but the hospital nurse recorded it as ‘Jaff’, and the spelling was passed on to his nephew.
As far as his prospect story, Jaff was a much more recognized prospect than Gift. Jaff was a 1st round draft pick of the Padres in 2008 and was in the Baseball America Top 100 during 2009. Jaff is a prospect very similar to former Pirate farmhand Robbie Grossman: left-handed, extreme patience, not enough range for center, etc. He’s also a good corner OF and not just a serviceable one.
The big thing with Jaff and Gift is that they’re not far from being major league regulars. They do things now that would have had them on the Pirates’ 25-man roster many of the years throughout the 90’s, but now the Pirates are good….really good.
From an outsider looking at the Pirates 25-man roster construction, it would seem that both Gift and Jaff are headed to AAA. Jaff might be a better 4th outfielder than Corey Hart or Andrew Lambo, but those two can play 1B and Decker cannot. On some teams Decker’s ability to play a passable CF would be a trump card to play, but not on the Pirates.
The big point is that if these 25 year-olds could take that next step, like Jordy Mercer did back in 2013, the flexibility that it could give the Pirates front office would allow Neal Huntington to deal players for prospects. Winning means less money for drafting and less Latin American money; trades like the Travis Snider deal will become the best way to restock the system and this would keep the window open longer. Having guys like Gift and Jaff pan out are part of that equation.