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Not a Rookie: Justin Upton

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Not A Rookie: Justin Upton

Justin Upton was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2005, the first overall pick, out of high school in Chesapeake, Virginia. He was a renowned amateur player and the younger brother of B.J. Upton, himself an exceptional prospect. Scouts loved B.J, and most of them thought that Justin could be even better. He didn't sign until January 2006 but I gave him a Grade A- in the 2006 book anyway, based on his scouting reports.

Assigned to South Bend in the Midwest League for '06, Upton had a somewhat disappointing season. He hit .263/.343/.413 with 12 homers and 15 steals, which is actually not bad at all for the Midwest League, well-known for cold weather and poor hitting environments. His OPS came out OK at +10 percent compared to league, and his Secondary Average was good at +31 percent. He continued to impress scouts with his tools, although some felt he was just coasting, questioning his work ethic, especially early in the season. His makeup was previously considered to be excellent. I gave him a Grade A- in the 2007 book, still considering him an elite prospect but watching to see if the work ethic issue got better or got worse.

Upton began 2007 at Visalia in the California League, tearing it apart with a .341/.433/.540 mark in 32 games. Promoted to Double-A Mobile, he continued crushing the ball, hitting .309/.399/.556 with 13 homers. He combined to steal 19 bases between the two levels. The work ethic problem was apparently not a long-term issue, as he appeared to learn from 2006. Promoted to the majors, he hit just .221/.283/.364 in 43 games and is no longer a technical rookie. However, given his extreme young age his shaky major league numbers don't really concern me. If he was still technically a prospect I'd have him as Number One on my list.

I think all Upton really needs to thrive is more experience. From a purely player development perspective, I would love it if he would get a season of Triple-A under his belt to make final adjustments in his game, then stick him in the majors as a regular in 2009 at the age of 21. That would be my ideal. But I'm generally conservative about promoting prospects, and the Diamondbacks are going to go ahead and use him as the everyday right fielder this year by all accounts. It's not what I would do, but they didn't ask me.

What can we expect? Short run predictions for 2008

James: .278/.353/.496
Shandler: .270/.344/.467
ZIPS: .248/.313/.404
Weighted Mean PECOTA: .271/.349/.471
Me: .259/.325/.429.

Three very similar, ZIPS the outlier. I'm not as optimistic as James, Shandler, and PECOTA, as I think he needs more adjustment time and the short-term performance might be rather mediocre.

PECOTA comps are interesting. Delmon Young is the top one, B.J. Upton second. Other names on the list are a mixture of stars, decent players, and busts: Adrian Gonzalez, Austin Kearns, Ben Grieve, Chad Hermansen (scary!), Dee Brown (double-scary), Ken Griffey Jr (very nice), Shawn Green, Vernon Wells. PECOTA thinks that Upton could be excellent, but that he isn't a sure thing quite yet.

In the long run, I think Upton will be on the upper end of those expectations, perhaps not quite Ken Griffey Jr-in-his-prime good but not far from that. As long as he keeps his head on straight, and doesn't have some sort of catastrophic injury, I think he'll live up to what people expect of him.