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.