On Friday afternoon the Pittsburgh Pirates promoted outfield prospect Jordan Luplow to the major league roster. He was in the starting lineup last night against the San Diego Padres, going 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts. Luplow did not receive much pre-season attention outside of Pirates circles but he’s having an excellent season; let’s take a look.
An outfielder at Fresno State University, Luplow had an impressive junior season in 2014, hitting .377/.475/.609. Scouts liked his bat but questions about his defense and a history of injuries dinged his stock just a bit; he was drafted by the Pirates in the third round. He posted a pair of very decent but not spectacular seasons in 2015 (.264/.366/.464 in Low-A) and 2016 (.254/.363/.421).
I had him rated as a Grade C on the Pittsburgh Pirates prospect list before the 2017 season began, but in retrospect that was much too low. He’s been quite good this year, hitting a combined .296/.377/.543 with 21 homers, 37 walks, and 61 strikeouts in 328 at-bats between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis.
Luplow is listed at 6-1, 195, born September 26th, 1993. Physically, his tools don’t stand out: average running speed and raw power, below-average arm strength. His numbers in A-ball in ‘15 and ‘16 were actually much better than they may look on the surface, with a wRC+ of 130, but there was mixed opinion about his ability to replicate this at higher levels.
Luplow boosters liked his approach and projected more game power as he gained experience and got further away from injuries, while doubters felt his body was too stiff and that better pitchers would expose holes in his swing. Given his excellent 2017 performance, the optimists have the better case right now.
There are defensive limitations: his lack of speed limits him to an outfield corner and a history of shoulder problems sapped his raw arm strength. On the other hand, he catches what he gets to, hasn’t made a single error all year, and has collected eight assists on the season. He’s doing something right out there.
At age 23, Luplow is still pretty young as prospects go. While he may not have the pure athleticism that makes scouts drool, he gets on base and can put a charge in the ball. His stock is up and I wish I had rated him higher pre-season. The sleeper markers were there.