Diamondbacks phenom Justin Upton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, will miss the first two weeks of the season with a shoulder injury. And when he returns, he’ll leave his amateur position behind.
After drafting him as a shortstop, the Diamondbacks plan to move Upton to center field at low Class A South Bend. Soon after Upton injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder on a swing during spring training, he met with Diamondbacks officials and they decided on the move. While Upton has played shortstop through his amateur career, the move to outfield will likely speed his ascent to the majors. Upton’s bat is considered more advanced than his defense.
“We met with Justin, his representatives, his family and just really put our heads together,” Diamondbacks farm director A.J. Hinch said. “He’s such a physically gifted player, that we felt the move would only increase the development of the bat and hasten his path from level to level.
“We felt that this was the best move to keep him advancing at the rate he needs to as he moves through the minor leagues. It was a collaborative effort with everyone involved and Justin is completely comfortable with the move. We want him to stay in the middle of the field and this gives us a track to do that in our minds.”
When Upton went No. 1 overall in the 2005 draft, he and older brother B.J. (the No. 2 overall pick by the Devil Rays in 2002) became the highest-selected siblings in draft history. After Arizona chose him, Upton held out until January before signing for a $6.1 million bonus, shattering the previous draft record of $5.3 million set by Joe Borchard in 2000. The Diamondbacks talked about keeping him at shortstop, but in the end his first professional game will come as an outfielder.
Heading into last year’s draft there was plenty of debate about which position Upton was better suited for. Scouts said he had the physical tools to play shortstop, and he showed clean actions, but his arm was sometimes erratic in high school, and he needed to develop more consistent mechanics. As a center fielder, Upton’s overall athleticism, 80 speed on the 20-to-80 scouting scale and plus arm should quickly make him an above-average defender.
Upton batted .500 in 14 at-bats in big league camp this spring, and quickly became known for his presence and demeanor among the major leaguers.
“He really held his own and we were very impressed,” Hinch said. “He’s such a special player and we saw that every day of camp. The injury is nothing serious, but we’re going to be cautious. And when he comes back, we feel like this is the best move for everyone involved.”