Despite some intriguing tools, Joey Loperfido flew under the draft radar for the most part during his time at Duke. The Philadelphia native was a four year contributor for the Blue Devils, had the ability to play multiple positions in both the infield and outfield, and sported an impressive, projectable 6’4” frame, so there was plenty for scouts to dream on, but his 22% K rate was high for a college prospect even in the ACC. He also managed just 18 career home runs in 765 PAs despite his strong raw power, sending his extra base hits to the gaps most often.
The root of both of these issues was a slashy, mechanically busy swing with excessive head movement that limited both his power and the amount of time his barrel spent in the hitting zone. His setup was also complicated, slowing his trigger slightly and creating some opposite field tendencies. Swing change candidates are popular upside plays in the middle rounds of the MLB draft, but also working against Loperfido was an older draft day age, partially thanks to the lost pandemic year, making a potential swing overhaul a riskier proposition. The Astros decided it was a project worth undertaking anyway, and selected him in round 7 back in 2021.
Houston immediately got to work with Loperfido on updating his swing, which led to some growing pains in his 2021 pro debut, in which he hit just .116 in 19 games for Fayetteville. He then reported to instructs to work further on mechanical updates before returning to Low-A this past season, where he looked like a new man en route to a stellar .304/.399/.473 slash line in 82 contests to earn a promotion to High-A Asheville, where he improved further with a .354/.434/.552 line in 26 games to close out the year to bring his season line to .316/.408/.492 with 12 HRs and a manageable 22% K rate to go with 32 SBs in 43 attempts. He also continued to show great positional versatility, logging time at first and second base as well as all three outfield spots.
The surface numbers were obviously very good, as he matched or improved his best college performances against a higher level of competition, and it looked even better under the hood with great swing/take numbers. The swing and miss was still a bit higher than one would hope, but given that he was working with an overhauled swing it’s reasonable to cut him some slack in that regard. There’s reason to believe both the hit and power tools have significant room to improve here, despite Loperfido being closer to his 24th birthday than his 23rd.
Loperfido is currently tracking towards a potential super-utility role, but if he can come close to maximizing his offensive potential it’s possible he could hit his way into a more regular role, most likely in center field where his combination of wheels and instincts play well. I’m not sure he’ll quite have the launch to truly tap into all of his raw power, but I find myself quite optimistic that his updated swing can support some very strong on base skills. When combined with his versatility and speed, that can make him a valuable piece at the big league level. He’s looking like a draft day steal through one full season.