The deepest valley in Ngoepe’s journey came four years ago with the Altoona Curve on a road trip to Akron, Ohio. He had finally advanced to Class AA, the proving ground for elite prospects, but felt completely overmatched at the plate. Worse — much worse — was an urgent phone call from home: His mother was in the hospital with pneumonia, and it was serious.
Ngoepe had managed his homesickness before. (“Gift is a conformist,” Larkin said. “He adapts well.”) But this felt different. He took batting practice in a fog, swinging as hard as he could at every pitch. When a teammate asked what was wrong, Ngoepe came undone.
He fled the field for the clubhouse, falling to the…