Expected to be one of the more coveted free agents this winter, the sweepstakes for center fielder B.J. Upton concluded on Wednesday afternoon when he and the Atlanta Braves reached an agreement on a five-year, $75.25 million contract.
Selected by the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays with the second overall pick in the 2002 draft, Upton was regarded as a premium athlete—he was a shortstop at that time—with a relatively narrow gap between his natural ability and baseball skills.
Therefore, it didn’t come as a surprise when the Rays assigned the 6’3”, 185-pounder to Low-A to open his professional career in 2003. After posting an .839 OPS with 35 extra-base hits, 38 stolen bases and 80/57 K/BB in 101 games, Upton was bumped straight to Double-A for the remainder of the season. The right-handed hitter was anything but overmatched, as he batted .276/.376/.381 with 25/16 K/BB in 29 games.
Upton opened the 2004 season back at Double-A and quickly mastered the level (.327/.407/.471 in 29 games), which, in turn, prompted a promotion to Triple-A Durham. As expected, the then-19-year-old continued to rake, batting .311/.411/.519 with 30 extra-base hits (12 home runs), 17 stolen bases and 72/42 K/BB in 69 games. The promotions didn’t end there; he was called up to the major leagues in early August and impressed in a 45-game audition, posting a .733 OPS with 14 extra-base hits and 46/15 K/BB.
Yet he would ultimately spend both the 2005 and 2006 seasons back at Triple-A before finally earning an everyday gig with the Rays in 2007. At 22 years old, Upton quickly asserted himself as one of the game’s premier up-and-coming talents by batting .300/.386/.508 with 50 extra-base hits (24 home runs), 22 stolen bases and 154/65 K/BB in 129 games. All empirical evidence suggested that he was on the brink of superstardom.
Unfortunately, his 2007 campaign, which was good for a 4.1 WAR, still ranks as his best big-league season. Since then, he has been a model of inconsistency: His power numbers have fluctuated each season, and the hit tool, speed and advanced plate discipline that made him such a promising young player all have gradually declined.
Upton’s inability to put together a consistent, well-rounded season has made him a perennially frustrating player. With natural ability that grades through the roof and five seemingly above-average-to-plus tools, the 28-year-old has been unable to put it all together.
With that being said, as we shift our focus towards the minor leagues, are there any prospects with the potential to be the next B.J. Upton (or as I call him, BUpton)? More specifically, which prospects seem to flash baseball brilliance on a given day and then look completely lost the next?
Here’s a brief scouting overview of five highly-regarded prospects who appear to be cut from the same mold as Upton.
2012 Stats: .275/.371/.485, 20 XBH (10 HR), 10 SB, 70/28 K/BB (53 G, Rookie Appalachian League)
Scouting Overview: Legitimate center field prospect with present plus defense and arm strength as well as above-average range; premium athlete at 6’4”, 180 pounds who receives above-average-to-plus grades for his speed; no reason to believe he won’t remain at the position.
Painfully raw from an offensive standpoint; right-handed hitter boasts above-average raw power to all fields with slightly more to his pull side; concerning amount of swing-and-miss in his game (70 strikeouts in 200 at-bats) with an inability to make in-game adjustments; has a tendency to arm-bar which leads to a long swing; bat head travels through the zone on same plane regardless of location of pitch; lacks bat-to-ball ability which impedes overall projection of hit tool.
2012 Stats: .248/.344/.448, 19 XBH (5 HR), 11 SB, 41/19 K/BB (48 G, Rookie Gulf Coast/Appalachian Leagues)
Scouting Overview: Buxton actually drew a lot of B.J. Upton comps headed into the draft, and for the most part, it’s proven to be pretty accurate; outstanding athlete that features five impressive and projectable tools; plus speed is obvious both on the bases and in center field; exceptional range in center field in all directions; plus arm is an absolute cannon.
Loaded with quick-twitch muscles that lend to his plus bat speed and above-average raw power, though it will take some time for him to learn how to tap into it with frequency; hit tool is slightly suspect given his swing-and-miss tendency but will likely improve with experience; base-stealing threat who is more adept at reading pitchers and picking spots than expected.
2012 Stats: .263/.349/.451, 31 XBH (6 HR), 10 SB, 55/26 K/BB (65 G, High-A Dunedin); .233/.286/.336, 16 XBH (2 HR), 14 SB, 45/11 K/BB (55 G Double-A New Hampshire)
Scouting Overview: Highly impressive and dynamic athlete at 6’4”, 200 pounds; features a complicated swing with too many moving parts that results in timing issues; at times it seems as though he’s trying to force contact by dipping his back side and trying to lift the ball rather than swinging to strike it; slightly above-average raw power will become more frequent with a simplified swing; tendency to chase too many balls in the dirt, especially breaking balls.
Ideal defensive profile for center field with plus speed, tons of range and plus arm strength; gets instinctual jumps, though his routes can be a bit shaky at times; should have no problem remaining at the position, especially with no apparent road blocks in the Marlins’ organization.
2012 Stats: .233/.339/.374, 13 XBH (4 HR), 18 SB, 54/18 K/BB (43 G, Rookie Gulf Coast League); .340/.415/.511, 5 XBH, 6 SB, 10/4 K/BB (12 G, Rookie Appalachian League); .167/.348/.167 (5 G, Short-Season Vancouver)
Scouting Overview: Left-handed hitter has an upper-body-oriented swing with lots of wiry, explosive strength; showcases above-average bat speed despite relatively compact bat path; hit tool should improve as he fine-tunes his swing and gains experience; projects to have above-average power and his plus-plus speed will make him a regular extra-base threat; struggles to pick up breaking balls out of the pitcher’s hand, but can certainly smoke fastballs.
Much like his all-around game, Davis’ defense in center field is raw and it may take him some time to develop a true feel for the position; his tremendous speed and range should compensate for poor routes until he reaches higher minor-league levels; arm strength is fringe-average and best suited for center field.
2012 Stats: .283/.345/.523, 36 XBH (7 HR), 14 SB, 74/21 K/BB (54 G, Rookie Arizona League)
Scouting Overview: Physical specimen at 6’3”, 170 pounds with electrifying athleticism; easy plus speed lends to his above-average range in center field; exhibits enough arm strength for right field if he’s ever forced to move from center; takes aggressive routes and plays the position with high-intensity.
Right-handed hitter possesses plus raw power, and his speed should continue to allow him to amass loads of doubles and triples; exceptionally strong wrists and forearms create premium bat speed; ball jumps off his bat with loud contact to all fields; high strikeout total (74 strikeouts in 237 at-bats) should be attributed to lack of plate discipline rather than poor swing mechanics; like most young hitters, facing more advanced and consistent breaking balls has been somewhat problematic; hit tool should develop with the development of a more consistent approach.