Loperfido sent to Minors, but impressive spring opens eyes

March 24th, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The chances of outfield prospect making the Astros’ Opening Day roster were remote, considering the team has established star players at almost every outfield and infield spot and Mauricio Dubón is one of the best utility players in baseball.

That didn’t stop Loperfido from making the Astros think long and hard about carrying him on the roster to begin the season because of how well he performed on the field and carried himself in the clubhouse in camp. Still, the Astros want Loperfido to get consistent at-bats in the Minor Leagues to start the season and manager Joe Espada informed him Sunday morning that he would be heading to Triple-A Sugar Land to begin the year.

“I did everything they wanted me to do,” Loperfido said. “It was a really positive conversation between Joe and I -- just that it wasn’t my time right now but they feel I can help the team this year. I feel like I came in and I did exactly what I wanted to do from my end, which was be myself in the clubhouse in my work here and just kind of let my play speak for itself. Just going to go back to business and go work in Triple-A and stay ready.”

Loperfido, the Astros’ No. 6-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, is a left-handed hitter who slashed .382/.488/.588 with seven RBIs, a stolen base, seven walks and 13 strikeouts in 41 spring plate appearances following Sunday’s 9-4 win in the Grapefruit League finale against the Cardinals at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches. Espada said Loperfido took the news like a professional.

“I told him that at some point this year I could see him impacting our club,” he said. “I also asked him to go down to Triple-A and get some work at first base, like he’s done in the past. I think Joey Loperfido definitely put himself on the map, and I think he can help us and he could definitely play at the Major League level.”

A seventh-round Draft pick out of Duke in 2021, Loperfido was named the team’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2023 after hitting .278 with 79 runs, 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 Sugar Land. He hit .235 in 32 games in his first taste of Triple-A.

In his first big-league camp, Loperfido appeared to fit in well in a veteran clubhouse from the get-go and even cooked his teammates a batch of paella earlier in camp at the urging of Espada. Loperfido showed he was at ease and comfortable in that environment.

“And then that comfort level of knowing that, ‘Hey, I can play with these guys,’ and just kind of understanding there is a role for me on this team,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than where I’m at right now.”

Loperfido said nothing surprised him in camp and his success simply came down to playing baseball like he knows how to do.

“There’s no secret sauce or secret recipes,” he said. “You’ve just got to come in every day and go about your work and do things the right way on the field. These guys compete and play better than anybody in the league.”

Roster decisions remain
Espada said last week he had hoped to set his roster by Sunday’s Grapefruit League finale, but the club will head to Houston with decisions remaining. Loperfido was one of five players informed Sunday morning they would begin the season at Triple-A, joining infielder Shay Whitcomb, outfielder Pedro León, pitcher Joel Kuhnel and catcher C.J. Stubbs. Of those, only Loperfido had an outside shot of making the team.

The Astros will carry 13 position players to start the year and 11 of those spots are set. That leaves infielder Grae Kessinger, first baseman Jon Singleton and outfielder Corey Julks competing for two spots. Kessinger is recovering from a mild hamstring strain and Singleton is out of options, which helps his case.

The last bullpen spot is between lefty Parker Mushinski and non-roster right-handers Tayler Scott and Luis Contreras. That's assuming Brandon Bielak and Seth Martinez have made the team. Houston will carry only 12 pitchers to begin the season with reliever Bryan Abreu suspended for the first two games.

“The next few days will determine those last few spots,” Espada said.