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Pirates Sign Infielder From South Africa

In an interesting development, the Pirates have signed 18-year-old shortstop Mpho Ngoepe (and no, I have no idea how to pronounce it) out of South Africa. No player from South Africa has ever reached the majors. The article is probably something-ado-about-nothing in terms of Ngoepe's actual talent; it appears he's more of a project than anything else (which wouldn't be surprising, given the lack of a long-standing baseball establishment in his home country).

Instead, what's most interesting is the way the Pirates found Ngoepe:

The Pirates sent scouts Tom Randolph and Jack Bowen to Pisa, Italy, in late August to watch Ngoepe in a showcase of European and African talent.

Grabbing players out of Europe and Africa is unlikely to produce much talent right away, but cheaply establishing a presence there may turn out to be a boon for the Pirates in the future if baseball catches on there. (South Africa, in particular, seems like a good place to set up camp--baseball is picking up steam there:

While Major League Baseball’s efforts in Europe are already bearing fruit, South Africa is the real gold mine. "Nowhere in Europe or the rest of Africa has the game spread as quickly as it has in South Africa," Holowaty said. "The elite levels in Holland and Italy are a little better right now, but according to our numbers, there are over 300,000 kids playing baseball in South Africa right now. That is more than all of Europe combined."

The explosion of baseball in South Africa is a result of the combined efforts of Major League Baseball and the South African government, which has long considered sports an integral part of raising the nation’s international profile. Major League Baseball and the South African Baseball Union have installed organized baseball in roughly 1,300 of the country’s 28,000 schools, primarily in poorer neighborhoods where the children are overwhelmingly black and colored (not a slur, but rather an ethnic identity officially recognized by the South African census).

If nothing else, the Pirates get points for planning ahead here.