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Devil Rays Sign Upton

By Marc Topkin
St. Petersburg Times
September 7, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG–As a high school player in Chesapeake, Va., B.J. Upton would compare himself to Yankees star Derek Jeter. But now that Upton is a professional baseball player, agreeing to terms Wednesday on a $4.6-million bonus from the Rays, he has a different goal.

"I guess I'm kind of in the mix of things now, and it's time for me to make my own name," Upton said. "It's an honor to be compared to somebody the caliber of (Jeter). I just think that eventually I'll be to that point one day, if not better."

Before Upton displaces Jeter on the American League All-Star squad, the 17-year-old has a few other things to deal with, such as getting to the major leagues. He is scheduled to start that process Tuesday when he works out for the first time with the Rays instructional league squad at the Naimoli complex.

Wednesday's deal concluded three months of on-and-off negotiations since the Rays made Upton, 6 feet 3 and 180 pounds, the No. 2 pick in the draft.

The talks had been stalled on an offer of $4.5-million, which included an initial payment of about $250,000. The Rays increased the offer and the upfront money during daylong negotiations Tuesday at a Norfolk, Va., hotel, continued talks during the night as team officials scrambled to fly home, and sealed the deal with a final exchange of faxes Wednesday morning.

The $4.6-million bonus, which will be spread over five years under a provision for dual-sport athletes, is the largest the Rays have given to a player they've drafted, $2.1-million more than any other player from the 2002 draft has received. (No. 1 pick Bryan Bullington still is negotiating with the Pirates.) Upton also will get an invitation to 2003 major-league spring training.

From the way the Uptons and Rays officials were talking, it doesn't sound like it should take long for him to make it to the majors for good.

"Realistically, I think he can get there in three seasons," B.J.'s father, Manny, said. "He thinks he can get there in two."

The Rays are excited to have him, especially because they are thin in middle infield prospects. "From what they told me, basically I'm the only shortstop," B.J. Upton said by telephone from his Virginia home. "It's a big task to hold up to, but I think I can do it."

General manager Chuck LaMar said signing Upton was an important part of the Rays' plan to build through scouting and player development.

"He's one of the finest players, obviously, in this year's draft," LaMar said. "He plays a premium middle-of-the field position and we think he's got the makeup, he comes from a great family, he's got the intangibles that you look for to use that ability.

"It's important for every organization in baseball to sign their draft choices and get them out playing, but the direction that we're going, and the direction that we said we're going, I would say it's a very important day in our future."

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