D-backs call up top prospect Upton
Outfielder, 19, to join team as Quentin goes on disabled list
SAN DIEGO -- Plenty of talented prospects have debuted for the Diamondbacks over the last couple of seasons.
There was Conor Jackson, Stephen Drew, Chris Young and Carlos Quentin, but none has received as much acclaim as outfielder Justin Upton, who had his contract selected from Double-A Mobile on Thursday. Upton -- at 19 years, 342 days, the youngest player in club history to appear in a D-backs uniform -- takes the place of Quentin, who was placed on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring.
"This is kind of the younger guy that everybody's kind of been anticipating, and now is the time," Arizona manger Bob Melvin said. "I think if you looked at it last year, if you looked at it earlier this year, whether or not this guy is here before September was probably a stretch, but we moved him up to Double-A, and he played even better at Double-A, so it's time."
Upton, the younger brother of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' B.J. Upton, was the No. 1 overall pick out of Great Bridge (Va.) High School in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. He signed with the D-backs in January 2006 and spent last season with Class A South Bend.
It wasn't necessarily smooth sailing for Upton during his first professional season. Midwest League pitchers worked him tough, throwing him breaking balls in fastball counts, and he wound up hitting .263 with 12 homers and 66 RBIs.
"A lot of his two years in the Minors have been about how we predicted," Arizona general manager Josh Byrnes said. "We expected the first year to be a year of fatigue, a year of getting used to playing every day, a year of getting pitched around, wood bats, etc. Not many guys their first year have great performance years. You look at some of the great names in our game, that year is kind of an adjustment year. The second year is the year where things can move quickly, and it has."
Upton started this season with Class A Visalia of the California League, but he was promoted to Mobile after hitting .341 in 32 games. With the BayBears, he hit .310 with 13 homers and 53 RBIs. He played in the All-Star Futures Game at AT&T Park last month, hitting a home run.
Because Upton's flight from Mobile didn't get to San Diego until a couple of hours before Thursday's first pitch, Melvin decided not to start him, but he did enter the game in right field in the eighth inning and popped out to first base in his lone at-bat. Beginning with Friday's game at Dodger Stadium, he will be the club's regular right fielder.
"He's not going to be here to sit," Melvin said. "As long as he's here, he's going to play. You don't bring somebody here like that to not play him."
Upton played shortstop in high school before moving to center field to begin his first professional season. This year, he has also played some left and right, because with Chris Young playing well in center, it didn't look like there would be an opening there.
At the start of this season, it appeared that Upton would spend all of 2007 in the Minors, but as he continued to dominate in the Minors, a promotion seemed imminent.
"No," Upton said when asked if he expected to be called up. "I just went out and busted it and played hard this year. I feel like I'm ready to be here, and I'm going to take my shot. It's been awesome just getting the call and realizing that I'm coming up here and getting the feeling about what I've been dreaming about my entire life. It's amazing. It's overwhelming."
Over the last 45 days, the D-backs have had each of their top talent evaluators go through Mobile to observe their prospects in anticipation of the trade deadline as well as to determine who might be candidates for promotion. The consensus was that Upton was ready.
"He's more than deserving," Byrnes said. "Aside from all of his potential, this year he's been a dominant force, 19 years old, leading the Southern League in on-base plus slugging and just dominant. So you never say anyone's ready until they get here, particularly at that age, but we really followed him closely at Mobile, and he's as ready as he can be, so now it's time to pass this test."
Upton was invited to Major League camp each of the past two Spring Trainings and earned the respect of his teammates not just with his obvious talent, but in the way he carried himself.
"He is a legitimate five-tool guy," Byrnes said. "He can affect the game in a lot of different ways, but I also give a lot of credit to his demeanor, his quiet intensity. He really plays the game hard, but very much under control. He wants to be great."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.