Devil Rays prospect B.J. Upton
The Devil Rays' prized shortstop is dominating Triple-A and rates as the best overall position-player prospect.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Position: SS Height: 6-3 Weight: 170 Born: 8/21/84 Bats: Right Throws: Right
B.J. Upton was the second overall pick in the 2002 draft class out of high school in Chesapeake, Va. Scouts loved his physical tools, and he was more polished than most high school players his age. Upton began 2003 in the South Atlantic League, and thrived, showing excellent speed, on-base ability, and significant pop. He held his own after a late promotion to Double-A, then tore up the Arizona Fall League against older competition. Upton's 2004 season has been even more impressive, and he is currently dominating more experienced players at Triple-A Durham. A Major League promotion could come at any time.
Scouting reports on Upton begin with his physical tools: he is very fast and very strong. Scouts rate him as possibly the best Five Tool player in the minor leagues, now that his power is starting to develop. At the plate, he has outstanding bat speed, along with good strike-zone judgment. He strikes out more often than he should, but he works counts effectively, and has shown the ability to hit both fastballs and breaking balls. Plate discipline shouldn't be a long-term problem for him. He has power to all fields. Upton has excellent speed, and has made major strides learning to use it on the bases. Defensively, he has top-notch range and very good arm strength. He still makes errors of inexperience and is likely to post high error totals for now, although the Devil Rays accept that since he gets to balls that other fielders can't touch. Upton's progress turning his tools into skills has been rapid and remarkable. His work ethic is excellent.
Stat-savvy analysts love Upton as much as tool-savvy scouts. He looks like a true Seven Skill player, showing power, batting average, plate discipline, offensive speed, defensive range, and throwing utility. The only skill he needs to improve significantly is defensive reliability, but that should get better as he gets more experience. The most exceptional part of Upton's profile is his age-relative-to-league. He's only 19, and is dominating Triple-A pitching. That is the sign of a future major league star.
Upton has had no major physical ailments. He comes from a very athletic family. His younger brother Justin is even better than B.J. was at the same age, and is projected to be the top player available in the 2005 draft.
What to expect
Upton could have some adjustment problems if he is promoted to the majors right now, but if he continues to hit like this at Durham, it is hard to see how the D-Rays can hold him back much longer. It's possible that Triple-A competition simply isn't good enough for him to learn the few things he still needs to learn, at least offensively. His main weakness right now remains defensive reliability, but Tampa Bay will put up with some errors due to his excellent range and arm strength. All things considered, Upton is the best overall position-player prospect in the minor leagues today. Scouts are certain he'll be a star, and given his performance thus far it is impossible to dispute that assessment.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," is also out, and can be ordered through online book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, Jeri; son, Nicholas; and feline friends Toonces and Spot.
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