TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays acquired middle infielder Gift Ngoepe from the Pittsburgh Pirates and added five prospects headlined by catcher Danny Jansen and first baseman Rowdy Tellez to set their 40-man roster ahead of Monday’s deadline for protecting players from next month’s Rule 5 draft.
Right-hander Conner Greene, catcher Reese McGuire and left-hander Thomas Pannone were also added to the 40 to cap a flurry of moves. Earlier in the day, the Blue Jays outrighted right-hander Chris Rowley and outfielder Harold Ramirez, one of the prospects picked up with Francisco Liriano in 2016, while utilityman Rob Refsnyder was claimed on waivers by Cleveland.
Their 40-man roster is now at 39.
Catcher Max Pentecost, a first-round pick in 2014 fighting his way back from shoulder troubles, plus Canadian right-handers Andrew Case and Jordan Romano are among the notable eligible players not added to the 40-man. They can now be selected by other teams in the Rule 5 draft Dec. 14, but they must be kept on the big-league roster all season or be offered back to the Blue Jays.
Ngoepe, an athletic and speedy 27-year-old from Pietersburg, South Africa, made history this past season when he became the first African-born player to reach the big-leagues. He appeared in 28 games with the Pirates, going 12-for-54 with eight walks in 63 plate appearances with the Pirates, and posted a .681 OPS in 77 games at triple-A Indianapolis.
“Everything is breathtaking right now,” Ngoepe told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette before his debut April 26. “This just shows it doesn’t matter where you come from. No matter where you are, who you are, you can still make it.”
Ngoepe gives the Blue Jays more depth up the middle behind Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis and Ryan Goins.
Pentecost, a first-round pick in 2014, continues to work his way back from multiple shoulder surgeries. While his bat was advanced, he was limited to 19 games and 162 innings behind the plate at single-A Dunedin last year. The Blue Jays considered gambling that no team would devote a major-league roster spot all season to a player whose future behind the plate is uncertain, but ultimately chose not to.
Case, a native of Saint John, N.B., posted a 1.58 ERA in 32 games with double-A New Hampshire in 2016 and allowed only one unearned run in 10 shutout innings over eight appearances in the Arizona Fall League.
Romano, from Markham, Ont., logged a career-high 138 innings over 28 games, 26 starts at single-A Dunedin, posting a 3.39 ERA with 138 strikeouts against 54 walks.
Players drafted out of high school in 2013, college in 2014 and international free agents signed during 2013-14 had to be added to the 40-man roster or be exposed in the Rule 5 draft.