PITTSBURGH -- Gift Ngoepe hopes to proudly represent his home country of South Africa in the Majors soon. In the meantime, the Pirates' shortstop will continue to do so in the World Baseball Classic.
Ngoepe, 26, has been added to South Africa's roster for the World Baseball Classic qualifying round, to be played Feb. 11-14 at Blacktown International Sportspark in Sydney, Australia. Ngoepe's South Africa team will compete against Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines for a spot in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, the fourth installment of the international tournament.
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The qualifying round will begin on Feb. 11 with a doubleheader. South Africa will play New Zealand, and the Philippines will square off with Australia. The four rosters include nearly 20 players affiliated with Major League clubs, but only one player on a 40-man roster: Ngoepe.
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The Pirates added Ngoepe to their 40-man roster earlier this offseason, moving him one step closer to his Major League debut. But Ngoepe has already made history for his home country, becoming the first black South African to sign a professional baseball contract when he did so in 2008.
Ngoepe spent last season with Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, batting a combined .257/.333/.352 in 92 games. The slick-fielding infielder mostly played shortstop, but he also filled in at second and third base.
This will be Ngoepe's third World Baseball Classic experience, as he led South Africa in hitting in the 2009 tournament and returned for the 2013 qualifying round.
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.