The Book on Jordan Luplow

The Pirates made a surprising move today, calling up Jordan Luplow to fill their current outfield need. It’s a surprise in the sense that Luplow wasn’t expected to be in the majors this year, but made a very quick ascension through the upper levels this year, spending very little time in Indianapolis.

It’s hard to say how long Luplow will be in Pittsburgh, due to the trade deadline being a few days away. If the Pirates add another outfielder, it would push him back down to Triple-A, or at least greatly reduce his playing time if he stays in the majors.

I’m sure that everyone on this site already knows who Luplow is, as we’ve written three articles about him in the last month, ranked him 17th in our recent prospect rankings, and have covered him since day one. But for those of you who have questions, here is The Book on Jordan Luplow, with his full profile and expected upside.

Where Did Luplow Come From?

The Pirates drafted Luplow in the third round of the 2014 draft out of Fresno State. He received a slightly under-slot bonus, with all of the extra money that year going to over-slot prep pitchers like Mitch Keller and Gage Hinsz.

Luplow’s rise through the minors was pretty steady. He went to the New York-Penn League after being drafted, where he put up a .782 OPS. He went to West Virginia the following year and hit for an .830 OPS, spending the entire season at the level. He spent all year in Bradenton last year, with a .784 OPS.

Typically, you expect to see a college hitter move faster than that through the lower levels. Luplow started each of the last two seasons slow, then picked up his production in the final few months, looking like one of the best hitters in the system in the second half of each year.

He made up for the slower approach in the lower-levels, hitting the ground running in Altoona this year with a .903 OPS and 16 homers, followed by a .975 OPS and five homers in 74 at-bats in Indianapolis. I can’t recall anyone who the Pirates have called up this quickly, with Brock Holt (106 PA) being the only recent example who was close.

An Offense First Approach

Luplow’s rise through the minors was primarily fueled by offense. His lowest performances were the .784 OPS in Bradenton, and the .782 OPS in Jamestown, with both coming in very pitcher friendly leagues. His numbers in West Virginia and Bradenton were both lowered by slow starts.

Luplow had a .694 OPS through June of 2015 with West Virginia, then put up a .994 OPS in 176 at-bats in the final two months, hitting eight homers during that time.

He had a .646 OPS through May in 2016 with Bradenton, but hit for an .872 OPS through the end of the season with six homers in 214 at-bats.

You could point to outside factors for each of the slow starts. He was learning a new position in 2015, spending a lot of time on his defense at third base. He was also hurt at the end of Spring Training in 2016, which may have led to a slow start. Luplow said that he felt healthy during that time, but the rust coming off the injury could have been a different factor.

At every level, regardless of whether he was struggling or not, Luplow displayed a strong ability to make contact, with a good strikeout rate and a high walk rate. He also has some power in his bat, although I’m not convinced that he can hit for this level of power, with 21 homers in 374 plate appearances so far this year. Luplow’s size doesn’t really scream power hitter, and could limit him in the future. However, I don’t think the results throughout his career are a mistake, and I could see him being a guy who hits double-digit home runs.

The Defense

The Pirates drafted Luplow as an outfielder, but moved him to third base in 2015 as part of a system-wide experiment to try and maximize value by seeing if athletic players could play a more challenging position. It’s not a bad approach, since it’s easier to teach defense to a good hitter, rather than good hitting skills to a strong defender.

The position wasn’t new to Luplow. He played there in high school, but after having labrum surgery his senior year, he moved to the outfield. He stayed there in Fresno State, and only moved back with the Pirates. That season saw an early end with another labrum problem, and he was moved back to the outfield the following year. That wasn’t entirely due to the third base experiment, as Luplow didn’t have the first step quickness for the hot corner.

Luplow isn’t really a strong defender in the outfield either. He plays both corners, and has good arm strength, but takes some poor routes and doesn’t have the best range. His game is going to be geared towards offense, but he has been working on the routes this year to try and improve the defensive side of his game.

The Family History

Luplow has a family connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates. His great-uncle played for them during the 1967 season. Al Luplow was an outfielder in the majors for seven seasons, known mostly for his strong defense and one amazing catch. He played with the Pirates at the end of his career, getting into 55 games. He also spent time with the Cleveland Indians and New York Mets.

There is a connection to this date in family history between the two players. On July 27, 1967, Roberto Clemente got plunked on the shoulder during a game against the Houston Astros. He stayed in the game until late, but afterwards he told the media that his arm was numb. That next day, Al Luplow replaced him as the starting right fielder and drove in the first run of the game, which the Pirates would eventually lose by a 9-3 score.

So on July 28, 1967, Al Luplow gets the start in right field in place of the great Roberto Clemente. That just happens to be the same date (exactly 50 years later) that Jordan Luplow gets his call to the majors and starts in right field for the Pirates.

What is Luplow’s Upside?

Prior to the season, we had Luplow as a guy with a ceiling of an average starter, and a likely upside just below a regular bench player. The big question about his game, and transition to the outfield, was his offense, as we wrote in the 2017 Prospect Guide.

The question is whether Luplow can hit enough to start in the outfield. He’s at a disadvantage in the Pirates’ system, since there are so many talented outfielders, and no starting spots projected to be open for years. He could end up as a good bench option. If he gets traded elsewhere, he could end up a starting option, depending on how well his power develops going forward. But it’s hard to see his power developing enough to work into the starting mix in Pittsburgh.

Luplow should move up to Altoona in 2017. It will be interesting to see if he continues the same trend of a slow start, followed by a strong finish after an adjustment period. His future upside also might become more clear based on how well he performs in Double-A.

Obviously his performance in the upper levels this year has raised his stock. In our mid-season rankings this year, he ranked 17th overall, with his ceiling remaining as an average starter, and his likely upside being slightly above a regular bench player.

Summary

Luplow made the necessary strides this year to get closer to his ceiling. We still have that as an average MLB starter. Right now, he has the look of a guy like Jose Osuna who could come up and impress with the bat, looking strong off the bench, but showing his weakness as a regular due in part to his defense.

There could still be a higher upside for Luplow if this year’s power production is the real deal. I’m skeptical of that, in part due to the track record, and in part due to the size. As I wrote above, I can see Luplow hitting for some power, with the capability for double-digit homers if he’s a starter.

But if this year’s power isn’t an aberration, and is something Luplow can repeat more often in the majors, then he could reach that starter ceiling, and maybe even surpass it. That would create an interesting situation with the Pirates, considering their current outfield starters and considering Austin Meadows in the minors.

  • chad hermansen, anyone? what is it with the bucs and their apparent constant development of quad-A players?….every other system seems to be turning out far better MLB ready talent than us and we’ve had 20 years of great draft picks with nothing to show for it….

    Also, i think the players are sending a very loud signal as to their disappointment of the ‘stand pat’ attitude of the front office as we approach the deadline – players look downright pissed that Lupe Low and not a Melky Cabrera type is filling in – Cubs move on quintanna early and find themselves in first place now, bucs, play the dumpster dive seemingly constantly and suffer the consequences of their lack of action….hope the fans continue to send a message to the front office as well – this city ONLY respects champions

  • With bullpen deadline prices as cheap as they’ve been in a long, long time good thing NH decided to keep running Watson and Hudson out there the last week. Those guys have been money!

  • He looks like trade bait to me. Maybe the interested team wanted to see what he could do in the majors before pulling the trigger.

  • It is a good problem to have, non-the-less. Worse-case scenario, Luplow can form a good bench nucleus with Osuna and fill in when Polanco/Marte eventually get hurt.

  • If Luplow was a Cardinal he would of went 2-4 with a homer and found his way to the outfield. This team actually needs Polanco! Marte should start juicing again he looks unassuming.

  • If you can teach defense to an athletic player, why does Luplow remain a below-average defensive player? I would suggest that the Pirates’ approach in that regard has generally been a failure. They are producing players who aren’t good defenders anywhere.

    • Michael Sankovich
      July 29, 2017 12:07 pm

      and their biggest strength going forward appears to be starting pitching. It’s imperative they shore up the defense to maximize that strength. This idea of having guys playing multiple positions has to be rethought. It only works if the player is competent at the various spots. Not everyone can be a Sean Rodriguez, as Jose Osuna and Adam Frazier have shown.

  • Luplow looked lost in the field and at the plate last night. Then again, tough to blame the kid for the loss. With a .643 ERA “ace” like Wood on the mound, it’s no surprise that the Pirates couldn’t manage more than 3 runs.

  • Tough night for the rook.
    Hudson is terrible.
    Feels like Cutch should be shopped. Never going to be worth more, from this point forward.
    NH froze when he needed to act about a week ago when the team did their part and he did nothing.
    If reloading this would be the time to max value of Cole as only Sonny Gray has comp value to him. Darvish is a rental.
    Really freaking frustrating watching this team lose to the bottom feeders of MLB. Offense has been offensive most of the year.

    • NH needed to act in the off season. They were 5 games below .500 last year and the offseason “moves” consisted of watching productive bench players leave, resigning Nova and adding Hudson. They’re recent non -activity is par for the course. But thank God they’ve managed to maintain financial flexibility all year! Think of all the nothing they’ll do to improve the team with the money they saved!

  • umpires continue to call center cut pitches balls
    how long with this madness..

  • Luplow reminds me of Kevin McReynolds. I would take that anytime. McReynolds homered in his first game by the way. I’m calling it.

    • McReynolds was a pretty decent OF’er for a few years, but badly tailed off towards the end.

      But, offensively, I could wish on a .265 Avg, 23 HRs, .775 OPS, 115 OPS+ .
      That wouldn’t be bad, but, a) I’m not sure JL can hit that well and b) he’ll probably never have value defensively.

      However, I think that, for a contending club, he can be a decent 4th OF’er.

  • I like the idea of having a solid hitting righty as a 4th outfielder for matchup versatility. Same idea with Osuna as someone who can be thrown in occasionally for a platoon edge

  • How tall was Hank Aaron? Wasn’t he 5’10”? It seems to me that power is more a function of bat speed, tied to swing mechanics and less a function of physical size. Consider Polanco. If size were a major criteria for power he would be hitting 40 or more HR / YR.

    • 61.738 hr/yr if power was determined by butt size…yet the Fielders would have tallied about 1,600.

    • piraterican21
      July 28, 2017 8:23 pm

      Better example, Stewart is around 6’4″.

    • Cutch

    • John Dreker
      July 28, 2017 8:59 pm

      You seem to be focusing in on just the size and not the player’s track record. Hank Aaron was hitting homers as a 19-year-old in the minors. Polanco added homers as he got older. The two players you used are examples that help what Tim said.

      We said Polanco would add power when he wasn’t hitting for any. Aaron had a track record of hitting homers already and was putting up double digits in the majors at an age when Luplow was still in college. Luplow has added homers at a later age, but he isn’t hitting towering homers like Logan Hill, or doesn’t have the raw power of someone like Casey Hughston, so with him you would be talking about adding raw power when he has already filled out.

      You also have to realize that minor league numbers don’t translate to the majors, so you’re looking more for the raw tools when you want to see someone who can add to those numbers. Luplow was a doubles hitter, with occasional power, who added some over the fence power as he filled out and matured as a hitter.

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