Our 40 in 40 series, which looks at each member of the Pittsburgh Pirates 40 man roster continues today with outfielder Jordan Luplow.
Luplow is one of the more intriguing players in camp competing for the left field job.
The 2014 third-round pick could find himself in a platoon in left field on Opening Day or back in Triple-A.
What makes Luplow’s situation interesting is neither decision would be necessarily a bad move if made for the right reasons.
Luplow had a very good 2017 season, earning not only his first promotion to the big leagues, but he was also named the Pirates’ Minor League Player of the year as well.
Split between Double-A and Triple-A, Luplow slashed .302/.381/.527 with 23 homers and 56 RBI.
Luplow only had only 160 Triple-A at bats to his credit before being called up to Pittsburgh last season. That happened because the Pirates roster never had three legitimate outfielders for most of the season.
Luplow’s promotion was rushed and he hit only .205/.276/.385 in 78 at bats in Pittsburgh, but he did hit three homers once he started getting acclimated.
Being a team void of power, Luplow is a bit intriguing and he does have a bit of pop in his bat and some upside, being ranked as the Pirates No. 23 prospect on MLB.com entering the 2018 season.
The case for Luplow
Despite what management says, the Pirates aren’t going to contend in 2018.
Personally, I don’t think they will be as bad as most people think, but a realistic “good” season has the Bucs flirting with finishing .500.
With that in mind, the fact that he doesn’t have much MLB experience shouldn’t matter given the guys he is competing with.
Colin Moran has 34 MLB at bats and I am fine with him being the everyday third baseman.
Luplow has hit left-handed pitching well through his minor-league career, so a platoon with Adam Frazier wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for Luplow.
If Luplow, who has options, is going to be sent down for the likes of a Daniel Nava, Bryce Brentz, or newly signed Michael Saunders, I would almost prefer the Pirates stick with what they have and see what Luplow can do.
If Carlos Gonzalez or someone else with a legit MLB pedigree walked into Pirates City in the next few days I may change my tune, but that is unlikely to happen.
Josh Harrison also plays a role in where Luplow begins the season.
If Harrison is still in a Pirates uniform, Frazier will get most of his at bats in the outfield. If Harrison is dealt, and I don’t think he will be by Opening Day, Frazier naturally goes to second base and another job opens up in the outfield.
A Harrison trade is likely Luplow’s easiest route to an Opening Day job.
The case against Luplow
As much as I would like to see the youngster stick with the team when it breaks camp, what is more beneficial to his development, 200 MLB at bats or 500 Triple-A at bats?
The answer is likely the later.
Jose Osuna got rushed up and struggled for the better part of last year, when he likely would have benefited more from consistent plate appearances in the minors.
Throw in the fact that while Luplow is a natural outfielder, he’s not a great one defensively and could use some more work in that department as well.
However, he makes all the plays he should, which is something that could come in handy for the Bucs at any level.
This goes back to the Pirates not having a direction.
If they look in the mirror and realize that this isn’t the year to compete, turning some jobs, even bench jobs, over to some of the younger guys isn’t the worst idea in the world.
Personally, I would like to see Luplow get a look in a platoon with Frazier in left field.
However, I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing him start the year in the minors either, if it is done for the right reasons.
If a guy like Saunders, Nava or Brentz earns the job with a lights out spring then fine.
However, if one of them is going to be handed a job then I would rather see what Luplow can do.
My gut feeling is Luplow begins the season in Triple-A, but will make a few appearances in Pittsburgh before the 2018 season is up.