Best Hope for the Diamondbacks - 2009
There have been a few great Arizona Diamondbacks during the team's short existence: pitchers Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Brandon Webb, and Dan Haren; hitter Luis Gonzalez. But "The Kid" may turn out to be the best of them all. That's our prediction, anyway, and a growing number of baseball professionals are also shouting the praises of Justin Upton.
Upton, 21, played in his first All-Star Game this season, and we're sure it won't be his last. He's the best all-around hitter on the team, batting .303 at this writing, with 24 home runs, 27 doubles, and 75 runs batted in. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, he's becoming a bona fide power hitter. He was third in the National League in slugging percentage at .536, second among outfielders.
When the former Great Bridge High School shortstop from Chesapeake, Virginia, was called up to the D-Backs as an outfielder on August 2, 2007, he was the youngest player in the majors at 19. Four days later, he almost became the youngest player ever to hit a homer, a triple, a double, and a single in one game. He missed by the single. The next season, on July 6, 2008, Upton hit the second-longest homer (a 484-foot shot) in Chase Field history.
While his hitting has never been suspect, his fielding early on with the Snakes left a lot to be desired. He often botched seemingly easy catches, costing his team runs and games. But the problem was solved this season, with Upton making miraculous catches in right field and nailing runners with his precise throws.
Baseball runs in Upton's family. His brother is Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton. During the 2009 season, Justin and B.J. became the first brothers in MLB history to win player of the month honors in the same year. Justin's National League award came for May when he — after breaking out of a slump that had some sportswriters posturing that he should be sent back to the minors — hit .372 with seven round-trippers and 21 RBI. B.J.'s American League honor came in the next month.
In a game where getting a hit a third of the time almost assures a player entry into the Hall of Fame, Upton is a comer. At his tender age, he's so far been spared major injury. He's already virtually assured himself a career spot as a starter in the majors, and if he continues to prosper, he's the one current D-Backs hitter who can make it to Cooperstown.