To say Justin Upton is hot would be the understatement of the season so far.
The first overall pick in 2005, who was at times criticized by scouts in the low Class A Midwest League for not playing to his full capacity last year, spent just five weeks at high Class A Visalia before being promoted to Double-A.
And nobodyâ€™s criticizing the 19-year-old these days.
Since landing in Mobile, Upton has destroyed Southern League pitching, going 5-for-10 with four home runs and driving in 10. Thatâ€™s been good news for the BayBears, who had won just five games in May prior to Uptonâ€™s arrival.
â€œNothing fazes this kid,â€ Mobile manager Brett Butler said. â€œAbsolutely nothing. Heâ€™s on a mission.â€
Itâ€™s not like Upton especially tore up the California League before catching a plane to the deep South. But itâ€™s not like he was exactly middle-of-the-road either.
In 126 at-bats with the Oaks, Upton batted .341/.433/.540 with five home runsâ€”all of which came in succession from April 25-29. But it was the on-base percentage that caught Diamondbacks farm director A.J. Hinchâ€™s eye the most.
â€œI think he was really just learning his craft, learning the grind of what itâ€™s like to play a full-season schedule last year,â€ Hinch said. â€œI went in (to Visalia) to check on him about 10 days ago and it was pretty impressive.
â€œIt wasnâ€™t so much what he did as much as it was the way he was going about it. He was getting his hits, sure, but he was also drawing walks, getting on base and really playing an exceptional center field.â€
Solid center field defense and getting on base were one thing, but not even the Diamondbacks fully expected this early Double-A power displayâ€”which is something that has Arizona fans already questioning when Upton will make his debut in Phoenix.
â€œThe way we see it, once you come to Double-A, you become an option,â€ Hinch said. â€œItâ€™s more of a reality because youâ€™ve established yourself into a larger image on the radar. Is he an option for â€™07? I doubt it. For â€™08? Probably.
â€œWeâ€™re not afraid to make those decisions, but right now we donâ€™t have to.â€
The Diamondbacks made one such decision Wednesday, calling up infielder Mark Reynolds, which has perhaps helped fueled not only Uptonâ€™s fire, but that of every player on the Mobile clubâ€”even 21-year-old Venezuelan right fielder Carlos Gonzalez, whoâ€™s been off to a slow start this season.
Since Upton’s arrival, Gonzalez has four hitsâ€”three for extra bases.
â€œItâ€™s a collision course of top prospects,â€ Hinch said. â€œTheyâ€™re going to feed off each other and challenge each other. Itâ€™s good for both of them.
â€œBut with Justin, heâ€™s just stepped right into that next level of competition and blended right in. He doesnâ€™t have the wow factor of being in Double-A. He doesnâ€™t want to be just a big leaguer. He wants to be a dominant big leaguer. So heâ€™ll go, compete and dominate. For him, the approach is almost like, â€˜This is just another stadium Iâ€™m in until I get there.â€™ And you know heâ€™s going to keep working to get there. Thatâ€™s the mindset. It’s who he is.â€
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