Astros send spring standout Joey Loperfido to Triple A: ‘It just wasn’t my time right now’

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Joey Loperfido handled the end with an elegance he exhibited throughout his entire stay in major-league spring training. He emerged from a closed-door conversation with Houston Astros manager Joe Espada still wearing a smile, stood before three reporters and answered all of their questions about not making the major-league team.

Now comes the hard part. Loperfido “put himself on the map” across a five-week stay in major-league spring training, where small sample sizes and misleading statistics can create outsized perceptions of what prospects really are.

The minor leagues are full of spring training standouts who flame out. Last spring, Justin Dirden authored a similar spring training but failed to maintain that continuity during an injury-plagued minor-league season. Proving his performance is more than a mirage is Loperfido’s foremost goal when he reports to Triple-A Sugar Land next week.

“He soaked this in. This isn’t a flash in the pan,” Sugar Land manager Mickey Storey said on Sunday afternoon. “He soaked this in as an experience. I don’t think he was surprised he didn’t make the team and I don’t think he would’ve been surprised if he did make the team. He’s that type of player who’s very cerebral, very realistic.”

“If there was a (blueprint) for how your first major-league camp should look like. I think Joey did that to a T.”

Loperfido always had long odds to make the team’s Opening Day roster. Promoting him just to play sparingly never made much sense, a sentiment Espada echoed earlier this spring and again on Sunday. Loperfido played just 32 games above Double A last season and slashed just .235/.333/.403 during those 138 plate appearances in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

The longer Loperfido lingered in major-league camp, and the more he produced, the possibility of a prospect cracking an otherwise entrenched roster became feasible.

Houston’s lack of left-handed hitting bench options only heightened the possibility, but the club appears willing to carry veteran Jon Singleton instead of Loperfido.

Other than to confirm Loperfido will begin the season in Triple A, Espada declined to reveal anything definite about his roster on Sunday. Espada only said Singleton is “part of the competition” for the club’s bench along with Corey Julks and Grae Kessinger.

“It just wasn’t my time right now,” Loperfido said. “I feel like I came in and did exactly what I wanted to do on my end, which was just be myself in the clubhouse and in my work here and just kind of let my play speak for itself.”

Loperfido slashed .406/.500/.625 in 32 Grapefruit League at-bats before his demotion. Six of his 13 hits came against left-handed pitching. Loperfido struck out 12 times and drew six walks, but impressed teammates and coaches far more with his makeup, disposition and self-awareness.

“Joey is not a guy that I would worry about having a taste of major-league camp, a taste of success and letting that overvalue the complete player he is,” Storey said. “He’s levelheaded. His makeup is so strong. He’s going to go to Triple A and he’s going to play well, there’s no doubt about that.

Both Espada and Storey said Loperfido will play more first base in Sugar Land, the surest sign that Houston has him in its immediate plans. Loperfido is a natural outfielder, but has Chas McCormick, Jake Meyers and even Mauricio Dubón ahead of him in the major-league pecking order in left and center. Kyle Tucker isn’t leaving right field, either.

Singleton, who is out of minor-league options, is the team’s only true backup first baseman projected to make Houston’s Opening Day roster. Meager major-league production and a lack of versatility already means Singleton’s hold on a roster spot is softening. If Loperfido produces and shows proficiency at first base in Triple A, it could force the team’s hand early in the season.

Other than an occasional ground ball on the back fields, Loperfido said he got no meaningful work at first base during spring training. Loperfido played first base during his collegiate career at Duke before making 49 minor-league starts there during his first two professional seasons. Earlier in camp, Espada said he viewed Loperfido as only an outfielder, but it’s clear Houston is trying to increase his versatility and value for the major-league club.

“His outfield play was really good, so you want to maintain that and sustain that production and continue to get better,” Espada said. “I think he’s a good base runner. His swing has come a long way. His zone discipline is better, but to get to the big leagues and stay in the big leagues, you have to do it every day. Consistency is very important.”

That’s why Loperfido will not start the season in the major leagues, a fate he may have forecasted before Sunday’s meeting. Earlier this spring, while he emerged as the talk of camp, Loperfido sought out Storey for a conversation.

Loperfido told the Sugar Land skipper that, if he did get sent to Triple A, not to worry about his demeanor. It would be “all business,” Loperfido said, a sentiment he echoed on Sunday after his assignment became official.

“I’m glad to have him,” Storey said. “I wish he would make the team, but that’s a tough team to make. These guys all know that. In due time, we’ll see what happens, but I know he’s going to go work his butt off to get to the big leagues.”

(Photo of Joey Loperfido: Jonathan Dyer / USA Today)

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