- Full name Justin Irvin Upton
- Born 08/25/1987 in Norfolk, VA
- Profile Ht.: 6'1" / Wt.: 215 / Bats: R / Throws: R
- School Great Bridge
- Debut 08/02/2007
Drafted in the 1st round (1st overall) by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2005 (signed for $6,100,000).
View Draft ReportUpton stands as the favorite to become the draft's first overall pick, which would trump his brother B.J., whom the Devil Rays selected second in 2002. The sibling rivalry doesn't stop there. Justin has proven equally athletic and more advanced offensively than B.J. at the same age, demonstrating excellent patience at the plate and a quick stroke. Upton's well-defined and muscular upper body give a hint to his plus power potential, which he accompanies with equal amounts of speed. His 6.23-second time in the 60-yard dash at a Perfect Game showcase last year rates as the quickest in the scouting service's history. Upton moves well defensively and shows clean actions at shortstop, but again follows in his brother's footsteps because he has trouble harnessing the plus arm strength that has allowed him to hit 94 mph off the mound. The throwing errors come from not maintaining consistent mechanics, a problem that fades when Upton long tosses or makes throws from the outfield. This has led some scouts to profile him as a center fielder, though Upton would prefer to remain at shortstop. He actually played third base late in his senior season, making all the plays there after switching positions with a teammate who struggled to make the long throws from the hot corner. Wherever Upton lands defensively, teams will buy the bat. His character and work ethic often go under-reported, as people tend to focus on the five-tool skills. He's handled the expectations of being tagged 2005's top prospect since his freshman year of high school with aplomb, routinely playing in front of scores of scouts and answering countless questions from scouts and media alike. He continues to back up the hype, with his performance at the World Junior Championship in September as a prime example. He led Team USA in runs (eight), hits (10), triples (four), total bases (21) and slugging (.875).
Organization Prospect Rankings
Upton and his brother B.J. are the highest-drafted brothers in baseball history, with B.J. going second overall to the Devil Rays in 2002 and Justin doing him one better in 2005. He held out until January 2006 before finally signing for a then-draft-record $6.1 million bonus. Because of his last name and unbelievable tools, Justin has been on the scouting radar since he stood out at the 2002 Area Code Games--as a 14-year-old. He kept up his level of play throughout his prep career and was Baseball America's 2005 High School Player of the Year. While he played shortstop as an amateur, the Diamondbacks immediately moved him to center field to take advantage of his plus-plus speed and allow him to worry less about defense. The returns in his first pro season were mixed. While scouts loved his tools, they weren't as enthusiastic about his demeanor. He ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the low Class A Midwest League, behind Jay Bruce (Reds) and Cameron Maybin (Tigers), two other outfielders drafted in 2005's first round. The term "five-tool prospect" somehow doesn't seem strong enough for Upton. He does everything exceptionally well and already has the body and composure of a big leaguer. If one thing stands out, however, it's his bat speed. He whips his bat through the hitting zone and has great leverage in his swing, which allows him to sting the ball like few players can and gives him plus power potential. His arm and speed are plenty good enough for center field, and though he was raw at the position he was taking better routes to balls by season's end. Even as he was learning, Diamondbacks officials say he "out-athletic-ed" the position early in the year. Upton evokes comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr. in center field, but he didn't show Griffey's enthusiasm in his first season. Several managers and scouts in the MWL didn't like Upton's attitude and effort. They said he showed bad body language and often ran slowly to first, and they saw a few blowups in the dugout when he broke bats or got into arguments with his manager. The Diamondbacks, however, say they have no concerns about Upton's makeup and that he held his own on and off the field. From their perspective, he came to the MWL with a bullseye on his chest and was pitched like Albert Pujols from Opening Day, so it was natural that he occasionally got frustrated. At the plate, Arizona wants Upton to control the strike zone better and get into hitter's counts where he can be aggressive. At times he slides out to the front side a bit, but he has such tremendous bat speed that he just has to stay back and trust his swing. In the field, he still has to learn the nuances of playing the outfield, from learning how to charge the ball to hitting the cutoff man to becoming more of a field general. The Diamondbacks say Upton has a strong desire to get to the big leagues quickly, and they have no plans to hold him back. They think the makeup questions will become little more than a footnote to his career as he matures. He'll open the season at the team's new high Class A Visalia affiliate and could put up huge numbers in the hitter-friendly California League.
Minor League Top Prospects
After just 32 games in high Class A, Upton was called up to Mobile and spent 10 weeks reinforcing what has been written about him since he was 15: He's one of the most physically gifted players in the game. He took over as Arizona's regular right fielder three weeks shy of his 20th birthday and held his own as the Diamondbacks won the National League West. Upton's package of tools is unparalleled, prompting one scout to award him future grades of 70 (on the 20-80 scale) in all five categories. His lightning-quick bat allows him to let balls travel deep, and he maintains his balance through his swing. He drives balls out to all parts of the park, and while he has a tendency to chase balls out of the strike zone, he made improvements with his plate discipline this year. "When I saw him take a slider on the outside part of the plate and rake it into right field and then turn a plus fastball around and hammer it over the center-field wall, you know you're looking at a pretty special hitter," Montgomery manager Billy Gardner said. Upton's speed allows him to compensate for his lack of experience in the outfield. He has feel for all phases of the game and should shore up his routes in the outfield and his decisions on the basepaths with more experience. He has the speed for center field and the arm for right.
After a lackluster pro debut in 2006, Upton hit just .152 in the first nine games of the Cal League season. He hasn't looked back since, as he destroyed the league over the next month before being promoted to Double-A and eventually the majors. Upton showed off a complete five-tool package. He has incredible bat speed and tremendous power to all parts of the ballpark. He has well above-average speed, which makes him a basestealing threat and allows him to outrun his mistakes in center field, where he has played for just two years. He also has a strong arm that could easily play in right field if needed. "He's got power to all fields and a great, quiet approach," a scout with an American League team said. "His hands are so quick. He's going to be a hell of a big leaguer for a hell of a long time."
The No. 1 overall pick in 2005 and the recipient of a then-record $6.1 million bonus, Upton broke into pro ball by going 7-for-14 in big league camp this spring. After arriving in South Bend, he only unveiled his considerable talent in flashes. Upton took the best batting practice in the league, pounding pitches all over the park with an explosive swing, then grooved his stroke for pull power during games and looked more ordinary. He has plus-plus speed but rarely ran out groundballs and was an indifferent basestealer. Moving from shortstop to center field, he showed plenty of range and arm strength but didn't put in the work necessary to improve his reads or throwing accuracy. "He knows his talent will get him to the big leagues," a second NL scout said. "Just doing what he's doing now, he should be a good big leaguer. But I wish he played the game hard. If he did, he'd be fun. Those tools are special."
Top 100 Rankings
Best Tools List
- Rated Best Batting Prospect in the Southern League in 2007
- Rated Most Exciting Player in the Southern League in 2007
- Rated Best Strike-Zone Discipline in the Southern League in 2007
- Rated Best Athlete in the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007
- Rated Best Hitter for Average in the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007