What awaits Jordan Luplow and Steven Brault in 2018?

Sunday, the Pittsburgh Pirates honored outfielder Jordan Luplow and pitcher Steven Brault as their top minor leaguers of 2017. What is next for these two in 2018?

For teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates in the lower tier of MLB’s payroll rankings, minor league development is crucial. Naturally, their annual winners of the Minor League Player of the Year and Minor League Pitcher of the Year awards become recognizable names to the fanbase. These players are put in the spotlight and expected to contribute sooner rather than later to the big-league club.

This year, Jordan Luplow and Steven Brault are tossed into that spotlight as the player and pitcher of the year, respectively. Both put together very impressive seasons and made for obvious picks for their respective awards.

Previous Pirates top prospect award winners have not always gone on to major roles in the majors the next season. Often this is because one or both of them is not in the upper levels of the minors. That is not the case this year, as both Lupulow and Brault ended their respective minor league season in Triple-A before garnering September call-ups.

Now, the question is, what’s next for both players in 2018?

Jordan Luplow

Entering 2017, Jordan Luplow was not a household name among Pittsburgh Pirates fans. He still may not be now, but he’s a recognizable name. That’s because he put together a heck of a season split between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis before some solid work with the Pirates.

In 2017, Luplow has hammered pitches on the inside edge of the plate but struggled to connect with pitches he had to reach for.

 

Luplow, a 2014 third-round draft pick by the Pirates, had never played above High-A before this season. He only needed 73 games to make the jump to Triple-A. After slashing .287/.368/.535 with 16 home runs in 288 plate appearances, Luplow was sent to Indianapolis, where he only improved, slashing .325/.410/.513 with seven home runs in 182 plate appearances.

The combined slash line of .302/.381/.527 across two levels was Luplow’s best in any of his four seasons. In the majors, his .221/.270/.426 slash line doesn’t look great, but it’s only been over 70 plate appearances. In September, he’s started in 14 of 22 games and has homered three times.

This month, Luplow was not only rewarded for his minor league work but also given a chance as a starter. Part of it was due to Gregory Polanco‘s hamstring injury, but part was also to get an extended look at Luplow. He had his ups and downs but deserves more opportunities in 2018.

Now, that won’t come as a starting outfielder. Starling Marte (despite his suspension), Andrew McCutchen (despite his near free agency) and Polanco (despite his injuries) are locked in as the Opening Day starters, barring the unforeseen. That said, Luplow should be in the running for the bench shot.

In Spring Training, expect Luplow to battle for a backup outfield spot. However, he will most likely start 2018 in Triple-A.

Steven Brault

Unlike Luplow, Brault was a familiar name to Pirates fans and management before the 2017 season began. He battled with Tyler Glasnow for the fifth rotation spot and ultimately lost.

If Brault was upset about the decision, he did an excellent job at channeling that into his performance. Brault went 10-5 with a 1.94 ERA, 3.29 FIP and 8.15 K/9 rate in 120.1 innings. He not only won the Pirates Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award, but also the International League Most Valuable Pitcher Award.

Brault, acquired in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles for Travis Snider prior to the 2016 season, eventually got a chance in the big league rotation. After making seven starts in 2016, Brault made six relief appearances before finally starting on Sept. 5. Though he won’t get any more starts this season, Brault looked solid, posting a 2.81 ERA and went at least five innings in all three starts. His finest start came Sept. 11 against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Until Brault finally got some starts this month, it was hard to see what the Pirates plan was for him. He shut down hitters all season long in the minors, yet didn’t get any starts until the final month of the season.

When Glasnow was demoted in May, it was Trevor Williams, not Brault, who jumped into the rotation. Those three all battled for the fifth rotation spot in Spring Training and Brault seemed the frontrunner because he started the most games in 2016. Instead, he was the last of the three to finally make a start in 2017.

Now, things have changed. Williams impressed in 2017 and seems to have a spot locked up, as do the rest of the starters. Expect to see Brault competing for a bullpen spot in Spring Training.

Looking to the future

Luplow and Brault exceeded expectations in 2017, but will be expected to take steps forward in 2018. Both had limited time in the majors in 2017 for varying reasons. Luplow didn’t get as much until late in the season because he had never been up before. Manager Clint Hurdle probably was not interested in giving a rookie regular playing time while his team was still in playoff contention. Brault never got opportunities because of the remarkable health of the starting rotation.

Next year, both players will have to mimic their 2017 performances to expect a regular role with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Brault is more likely to break in because he could be the top fill-in for the rotation if the Pirates part ways with Glasnow. Luplow could get chances, but Jose Osuna and Adam Frazier are also backup outfield options under contract for next season.

Even if both start the season in the minors, it’s a testament to the Pirates organizational talent. Having both of its farm players of the year as call-up options is fantastic. It means that it has immediate plug-ins with upside and a track record of success.

How Luplow and Brault will be used in 2018 remains to be seen, but both deserve extended opportunities thanks to a superb 2017.

 

Joel Norman

Joel Norman is a journalism major at West Virginia University. In addition to writing for Pirates Breakdown, Joel covers WVU sports for the Daily Athenaeum and writes game recaps and features for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Joel also does play-by-play broadcasts of WVU hockey and baseball for WWVU-FM in Morgantown.
  • GN

    Luplow is unusual among Pirates prospects as he spent little time in the minors. The Pirates seem to drag out the minor league development forever. His rise through the minors this year reminds me of Steve Pierce. Hopefully, Luplow can stay healthier than Pierce did with the Pirates. Frazier is the key to the player movement next year. He still does not look solid at 2B and is OK in the outfield. His hitting however is needed by the Pirates. Luplow looks capable in right or left defensively but who leaves to create playing time? Marte and Polanco do not have much trade value after this season and Osuna looks like he has nowhere to go. Brault might get more consideration as a starter since he is left-handed. Kuhl has pitched well over the second half of the year but i do not think he is a lock for a starter. Brault does seem to be able to compete at the major league level unlike Glasnow has till now. Releasing Glasnow seems like a mistake but the Pirates do not have the time to let him develop. They could leave him at Indy since Hutchinson was released but what does he have to prove there. And Mitch Keller is coming.

  • redrage97

    I almost said Trade Polanco and start Jordan in spring.. but then i saw Jordan’s strike out and walk rates…. So i’ll reserve saying start Jordan in spring until after he gets some more plate appearances. I still say STRONGLY consider trading Polanco preferably for catching or pitching, extend Cutch two more seasons through 2020. Between Jordan, Jose, Adam and Austin (later) they should be able to find a stable corner.

    I see Brault competing for a rotation spot next season, maybe not winning it but being a strong competitor. The rotation is weak currently. Cole Nova and Taillion are heading it up and they’re performance has been shaky this season. Williams and Kuhl are also front runners to slide in as well, but the first half with those two wasn’t all that great and Trevor well yeah some of his stats look good and watching him pitch look good but some of his stats suggest that his second half success is just chance, need to be careful there. Nova after the break fell apart for 10 games or so (which was highly predictable given his career). Also have to keep in mind that pitchers often go through stretches where they look like Cy-Young winners and then get dragged down to earth pretty quick. (Locke, Morton, J-Mac, Nova for example)… could this also be Trevor and Kuhl? Hard to say, they’re still young so it is fairly probably that it is just their progression moving forward. Cole is still pitching fairly well but the long ball really hurt him. Taillion was pretty amazing before undergoing cancer treatment.. after was shaky, i give him a pass, his history suggests he’ll bounce back strong but gota keep him healthy. With the rotations trouble this past season players like Brault, Kingham and even Glassnow have a legit shot at making the rotation out of spring.

    Later in the season they have other prospects that are looking to force their way in as well.