By Alan Matthews
January 9, 2006
The Diamondbacks signed the 2005 draft’s No. 1 overall pick, Virginia prep star Justin Upton, to a record-setting signing bonus.
Upton and the Diamondbacks finalized a deal that includes the largest signing bonus for a player signing with the team that drafted him. The bonus of $6.1 million is payable over five years, a proviso used for players who have the ability to be a professional in two sports. According to a source familiar with the negotiations, Upton will receive $800,000 in 2006, $1 million apiece in 2007 and 2008, $1.3 million in ’09 and $2 million in 2010. He also received a spring-training invitation to major league camp.
Upton’s advisor Larry Reynolds wouldn’t comment specifically on the amount, only saying the bonus was “in (the $6 million) range . . . It’s going to be pretty strong.”
The previous record bonus was $5.3 million the White Sox paid Stanford outfielder Joe Borchard, the first pick in the 2000 draft. Matt White signed for a $10.2 million bonus as an amateur free agent in 1996 with the Devil Rays, which remains the all-time bonus record.
Upton was the consensus top player available in the 2005 draft. He was Baseball America’s 2005 High School Player of the Year after batting .519-11-32 in 54 at-bats as a senior at Great Bridge High in Chesapeake, Va., homering every 4.9 at-bats.
“They have a new regime over there and (Diamondbacks general manager) Josh Byrnes came in and, frankly, did a good job,” Reynolds said.
The Diamondbacks’ original offer to Upton following the draft included a bonus reportedly near $4 million. In October, Arizona hired Byrnes to replace former GM Joe Garagiola Jr., who resigned in August.
“Josh took the lead on this situation and decided that this is a player we needed to get into spring training,” Diamondbacks scouting director Mike Rizzo said. “He’s a special talent and we’re going to put him in a position to develop him the quickest and the best we can. We’re going to be careful but not ultra-conservative.”
Upton will play shortstop, a position scouts in the industry were not convinced he can play at the big league level. He has tremendous athleticism but an erratic arm. The Diamondbacks also have 2004 first-round pick Stephen Drew at short ahead of Upton in the system.
“I don’t think it (Drew’s contract) was a benchmark,” said Rizzo, who signed Drew for a $4 million bonus and big league deal worth a minimum of $5.5 million. “But if I said it had nothing to do with it, it would be inaccurate. It did come into play . . . with these negotiations.”
Upton, the younger brother of Devil Rays shortstop B.J. Upton, had committed to North Carolina State but opted not to enroll when classes began. As negotiations stalled, he was considering playing this spring at Louisburg (N.C.) Junior College and would have had to enroll by Jan. 16 to be eligible. Once he attended class at Louisburg, the Diamondbacks would have had to wait until the completion of his junior college season before resuming negotiations.
Instead, Upton will be in a Diamondbacks uniform when spring training begins.
“Justin wants to go play pro baseball,” Reynolds said.
Jack Magruder contributed to this report.