Diamondbacks Spring Spotlight: Justin Upton

How good is Justin Upton, and how soon will he be that good? A comparison to his older brother and one of his fellow Diamondbacks outfielders elucidates the issue.

Luke, Joe, and Tommy Sewell. Bob and Ken Forsch. Joe, Vince, and Dom DiMaggio. Robbie and Sandy Alomar. Cal and Billy Ripken. Felipe, Matty, and Jesus Alou. George and Ken Brett. Bret and Aaron Boone. Dmitri and Delmon Young.

Brothers playing baseball at the major league level is not news. But rarely in baseball history have two brothers both been projected to become major league superstars. Such is the case with 23-year old B.J. Upton and his brother, the former first overall pick in baseball's amateur player draft and current Arizona Diamondbacks right-fielder, 20-year old Justin Upton.

Yr Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO AVG OBP SLG
06 S Bend 438 71 115 28 1 12 66 15 7 52 96 .263 .343 .413
07 Visalia 126 27 43 6 2 5 17 9 4 19 28 .341 .433 .540
  Mobile 259 48 80 17 4 13 53 10 7 37 51 .309 .399 .556
  Ariz 140 17 31 8 3 2 11 2 0 11 37 .221 .283 .364
Minors 216 823 146 238 51 7 30 136 34 18 108 14  .289 .375

Statistics courtesy of The Baseball Cube

Diamondbacks fans can look with delight at what B.J. did last season.  In his first full year with Tampa Bay, B.J. hit 24 homers, stole 22 bases, and posted an .894 OPS (136 OPS+) in just 128 games with the (then) Devil Rays, while also putting up over 80 runs and RBI, and hitting 25 doubles and a triple. The real reason that the Diamondbacks should revel in this performance is not because Justin just might be as good as B.J., but because in all likelihood he will be just as good as B.J. and maybe even better.

While B.J. is the older brother, he is giving up about 25 pounds to the younger Justin (these Alpha-Males both stand 6-foot-3, but Justin weighs 205 compared to B.J.'s 180). In just his second season in the minors, Justin pasted the ball in 32 games at the Hi-A level, putting up a .341/.433/.540/.973 line before graduating to Double-A, and dropping off only slightly to .309/.399/.556/.955. Over the course of the season at two minor league levels, Justin finished in the lofty .300/.400/.500 level, with 23 doubles, 6 triples, 18 homeruns, and 19 stolen bases, along with 70 runs and RBI in only 385 at bats. This guy projects to be a run producer and scorer, and to be able to hit homeruns as well as steal bases at an elite level (though his 63% stolen base rate needs work).

There is, of course, all the reason in the world for the Diamondbacks and their fans to show caution and, perhaps, a little more patience than they are displaying with this kid. While Justin can vote, he does not even turn 21 until late August of this year; it is a rare thing indeed in the modern era of major league baseball to see a full time player who can not yet join his teammates for a drink after a game, and penciling in such a young player to be a starting right fielder is certainly out of vogue in today's game.

Indeed, Justin did not inspire a lot of confidence with his 43-game major league call-up last season, during which time he walked only 11 times but struck out 37 times and posted a horrendous .221/.283/.364. The dismay has been tempered a little by Justin's performance this spring, during which he hit over .300 and posted an OBP over .400.

By the time he is 25, Justin Upton should be able to play 150 games for the Diamondbacks and go .300/.400/.500 and 30/30 while walking 80-to-100 times and striking out in the 90-120 range. But it would be preposterous to expect such a performance from the youngster in 2008. In all likelihood, Upton will provide some exciting moments for the fans in Arizona, but also some frustration, and at the end of the year, Upton will have looked less like an established star and more like a developing star. But comparing Upton to another young, raw Diamondbacks outfielder shows that Upton will likely get every chance to succeed, and should be given that chance.

In 2007, Chris "the outfielder" Young almost went 30/30 and played good defense, but also finished the season with an on-base percentage of .295, a batting average in the .230s, and almost 100 more strikeouts than walks (141 vs. 43). His defense, power, and speed were enough to keep him in the majors, and the Diamondbacks were happy with what they saw, despite the fact that he probably would have spent the season at Triple-A for a lot of teams. Nevertheless, Arizona is confident that Young will continue to grow as a player in 2008, and they will probably show the same faith in Justin Upton.

At the end of the day, the important thing to remember with Justin Upton is that he has already done things at the minor league level before the age of 20 that Chris Young never did, and he should be better, sooner, than Chris Young. Though the results down the road should be better, and more exciting, there can be no doubt that Justin Upton gives Arizona another young and exciting outfielder, and should be an NL Rookie of the Year candidate come awards time.

Prediction

84 runs, 24 homeruns, 79 RBI, 24 steals, 67 BB, 135 K, .280/.340/.490.

 

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