This Astros prospect a wiz in kitchen ... and on diamond

Loperfido's potent bat giving food for thought about Major League roster spot

March 17th, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- All eyes became fixed on Astros prospect when he casually walked into the clubhouse on Thursday morning wearing a black apron that read, “Kiss the cook.”

A few minutes later, he was passing out bowls of paella to anyone who wanted to try it, including curious members of the media.

Loperfido, ranked as Houston's No. 6 prospect by MLB Pipeline, had spent the previous hour cooking the Spanish dish that consists of rice, saffron, vegetables, chicken and seafood in the team’s kitchen. He added garlic, onions, tomatoes and bell peppers -- ingredients the kitchen staff had purchased a few days earlier when manager Joe Espada challenged the man known as “Joe Cooks” to make his favorite dish.

“Saffron is an important thing,” Loperfido said. “I added some lemon and some parsley.”

From star second baseman Jose Altuve, who gave it a “10 out of 10,” to bench coach Omar López, a “paella guy” who had a second helping, to Espada, the reviews were great. Espada expected Loperfido, who grew up in the Philadelphia area, to say a Philly cheesesteak was his favorite dish to cook, but the paella was a hit.

“I think we ran out quickly,” said Loperfido, who learned to cook from his parents and post his dishes on his Instagram page, @joe__cooks. “I think it turned out well. It’s tough to cook for a big crowd, but I did my best.”

Loperfido has been pleasing Astros crowds this spring with his play on the field, as well. After going 3-for-3 with a run scored, RBI and stolen base in Friday’s 5-3 win over the Phillies, Loperfido was slashing .423/.483/.692 with six extra-base hits and is pushing to make the Major League team.

He’ll be among the Astros prospects participating in Sunday’s Spring Breakout game against the Cardinals at 9 a.m. CT in Jupiter, Fla.

“He’s been having a really nice camp -- the speed, the power, can play all three [outfield positions] and lefty bat,” Espada said. “He’s really opening some eyes.”

A seventh-round pick (No. 208 overall) out of Duke in the 2021 MLB Draft, Loperfido was named the team’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2023. He batted .278 with 79 runs scored, 27 doubles, three triples, 25 home runs, 78 RBIs, 65 walks, 27 stolen bases and an .880 OPS in 124 games between High-A Asheville, Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Sugar Land.

Loperfido hit .235 in 32 games in his first taste of Triple-A last year and reported to Minute Maid Park a few weeks before Spring Training to work with Sugar Land hitting coach Aaron Westlake to put him in better position for his first Major League camp.

“Being around those guys leading up to camp and kind of get a jumpstart on what we wanted to work on, I felt like I was able to identify what we wanted to get better at and come in here and go right to work,” Loperfido said.

Loperfido can play the infield as well as all three outfield spots, but the Astros are viewing him as an outfielder. Houston’s starting infield and outfield are set, so his path to the big leagues would be as a bench player. He’s competing with Grae Kessinger, Jonathan Singleton and Corey Julks for a roster spot, but Loperfido is more likely to begin the season in Triple-A to continue his development.

Espada said playing every day is the only way a young player can get better.

“There’s also ways you can do that as the Major League level,” the skipper said. “As a young player, you can find spots for him to play, but to fully develop and get the reps he needs, the Minor Leagues is kind of where you want to do that.

"I’m not saying that’s what we’re going to do with Joey, but I’ve been in player development. I’ve been in the big leagues for a long time, and young players need to get reps to build confidence to be able to develop their skills.”

For now, Joe Cooks will continue to turn heads on the baseball field and in the kitchen.

“I wouldn’t know if I’d call what I do cooking,” Loperfido joked. “It’s not too glamorous, but it’s just something I kind of picked up in college and I figured it would be a good skill to learn -- kind of playing and moving around all over the place, and living with guys most of the time. I enjoy it.”