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Arizona Takes Upton To The Surprise Of Nobody

June 8, 2005
By Jack Magruder

PHOENIX--As expected, the Diamondbacks jumped at the chance to select Justin Upton with the first pick in the June draft and worked on college pitchers later.

Upton had a private workout at Bank One Ballpark the Sunday before the draft in front of general partner Ken Kendrick, general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. and scouting director Mike Rizzo, but the Diamondbacks were sold long before that.

"Justin has special ability, special tools, said Rizzo, who called Upton the most talented player available in the last several drafts.

"He is a tremendously gifted player, both in terms of his athletic ability and his baseball ability, Garagiola said. "If you identify the classic five tools--he hits, he hits for power, he can run, he has a strong throwing arm, and he has above-average range at shortstop. He has a maturity about him that is unbelievable for a player who is 17. He has been traveling and playing in all-star games since he was 13. In that respect, he is a very atypical high school senior.

The D-Backs have had preliminary contract discussions with Upton's agent, Larry Reynolds, and hope to have an agreement in place sooner rather than later. They plan to assign Upton, 17, to Rookie-level Missoula in the Pioneer League and hope to get him there as close to the league's June 21 starting date as possible.

Upton was .519-11-32 with seven stolen bases in 54 at-bats this season at Great Bridge High in Chesapeake, Va., where he, his parents and brother B.J. watched the first round of the draft in the school library Tuesday. B. J. flew in from Ottawa, where he had played for Triple-A Durham the day before, and were to attend B. J.'s game at Norfolk that night.

The Uptons became the first brothers to go 1-2 in the history of the draft. B. J. was the second player taken in the 2002 draft by Tampa Bay. Delmon Young was the first player taken in 2003 after brother Dmitri was taken fourth in 1991.

"People always said I was going to be better, but right now he's better because he's been through it, Justin said. "We'll see in a couple of years.

B.J. signed for a $4.6 million bonus from the Rays in 2002, but the market appears to have changed since then. San Diego signed high school shortstop Matt Bush, last year's first overall pick, to a $3.15 million bonus, a deal announced not long after the draft.

The D-Backs gave shortstop Stephen Drew a $4 million signing bonus on May 3 as part of a major league contract worth a minimum $5.5 million. Though scouts believe Upton could mature into an outfielder as his career develops, the D-Backs plan to have both continue at shortstop, with Drew joining high Class A Lancaster on June 7. Shortstop prospects Sergio Santos and Jerry Gil already are in the system.

"I hope to get a chance at shortstop, Upton said. "How it ends up, it ends up.

SNAKE BITES

As usual in Rizzo's six-year tenure, the D-Backs' draft was heavily weighted toward experience, with 18 of their 20 first-day picks either college or junior college players. The D-Backs took Massachusetts righthander Matt Torra, the Atlantic-10 Conference pitcher of the year, with the pick they received between the first and second rounds as compensation for losing free agent Richie Sexson, and had 10 pitchers among their first 14 picks.

Included were second-rounder Matt Green, who led NCAA Division I with 141 strikeouts at Louisiana-Monroe, and third-rounders Jason Neighborgall and Micah Owings, former teammates at Georgia Tech until Owings transferred to Tulane. Neighborgall is one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft. Scouts saw him hit 100 mph on the radar gun in the Cape Cod League last summer with a workable curveball and a plus changeup, but control issues plagued his 2005 college season. He was 5-3, 6.66 and struck out 71 in 53 innings at Tech, but walked 50, hit 12 and had 16 wild pitches, opening the season as the No. 1 starter before falling out of the rotation. "We think we have a steal in the third round, Rizzo said.

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