Younger Upton dials in at Area Codes
By Josh Boyd
LONG BEACH, Calif.Justin Upton just wanted to attend the Area Code Games and make a name for himself. No doubt, when he first stepped on the field, he was the younger brother of B.J. Upton, who was one of the top prospects in Long Beach last summer before being picked second overall in the 2002 draft.
By the end of the six-day scouting combine, Justin Upton not only stepped out from his brothers shadow, but may have started to put B.J. in his.
The thing is, Justinwho by all accounts was the top prospect at the Area Code Games this yearis only 14 years old. Hes not eligible for the draft until 2005, but scouts are already salivating over his upside.
One American League scouting director said he would take Upton first in the 2003 draft. Another scouting director said, "Its not often you can say a 14-year-old has a chance to be better than the player who was drafted with the No. 2 overall pick, but (Justin) has a chance."
Upton took the 2002 Area Code Games by storm, exceeding even his own expectations.
"Coming out here, I just wanted to show that I could hold my own, that I could play with the big boys," Upton said.
Upton earned his way onto the varsity team last year as a freshman at Hickory (Va.) High, after playing JV as an eighth grader.
"I didnt think Id play varsity as a freshman," Upton said. "They told me Id battle for the shortstop job or a spot in the outfield. I started playing short and hit pretty good, but I moved to left field because I made some errors."
After working hard on his defense after the season, Upton projects as one of the best shortstops in the country. He made the routine plays and the tough plays in front of more than 200 scouts in Long Beach. He turned in the defensive gem of the week, displaying big league tools on a ball hit deep in the hole that required every bit of range and arm strength he has.
"Shortstop, that is where I want to play," he said. After his performance at Blair Field, he left little doubt among scouts that he can handle the job. They only project him to get better.
"He held his own both offensively and defensively," Twins scouting director Mike Radcliff said. "The tools are certainly evident that hes going to be a shortstop with all the tools.
"Its pretty amazing to see two guys in the same family with similar skills with one drafted as high as B.J. was and as high as Justin could be. Well all be watching him over the next few years over at Hickory."
Blair Field Blurbs
Upton wasnt the only rising sophomore turning heads in Long Beach. Valley High (La Crescenta, Calif.) outfielder Trevor Bell was the top two-way talent on the field as he demonstrated a natural lefthanded stroke at the plate and an 89 mph fastball and hard curve on the mound. La Grange (Texas) High righthander Homer Bailey emerged as the top prospect from the 2004 class with a loose, quick arm that produced easy 90 mph heat
In addition to Uptons baseball bloodlines, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams son Kenny, Indians farm director John Farrells son Jeremy, former Phillies infielder Manny Amadors brother Anderson, Pete Incaviglias nephew Thomas and Bip Roberts son Markus were on hand.
Chaminade (Westlake, Calif.) High outfielder Jim Rapoport registered the best 60-yard dash time with a 6.62, followed be Amijo (Calif.) High shortstop Sean Henry at 6.65.
Dominican righthander Miguel Cuevas was the top international prospect in Long Beach. The 6-foot-7 17-year-old has a raw delivery with tremendous arm strength, topping out at 91 mph during his two games.
For more information on this year's Area Code Games, check out www.studentsports.com.
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