The first overall selection in the 2005 draft out of a Virginia high school, Upton received an aggressive assignment to Low-A South Bend for his professional debut. The 18-year-old held his own in the Midwest League, posting a .757 OPS with 41 extra-base hits, 15 stolen bases and 96/52 K/BB in 113 games. Albeit impressive, his inaugural season didn’t suggest that he’d rip through the minor leagues as he did the following year.
Opening the 2007 season at High-A Visalia in the hitter-friendly California League, the 6’2”, 205-pound outfielder absolutely exploded at the plate, batting .341/.433/.540 with 13 extra-base hits and 28/19 K/BB in 32 games.
Upton’s torrid start quickly earned him a promotion to Double-A Mobile where he continued to rake as one of the younger players in the Southern League.
After batting .309/.399/.556 with 34 extra-base hits (13 home runs), 10 stolen bases and an especially impressive 51/37 K/BB in 71 games, the 19-year-old was called up to the major leagues in early August.
As expected, Upton’s bat cooled off as he was challenged by the most advanced pitching he’d ever seen. Overall, he batted .221/.283/.364 over 152 plate appearances, which is still damn impressive for a teenager.
Upton began to close the gap between his present ability and future potential the follow year, as he batted .250/.353/.463 with 15 home runs in 108 games, and, more importantly, demonstrated the ability to make adjustments at the highest level.
It wasn’t until 2009 that his career truly took flight, however, when he posted a 3.8 WAR (Baseball Reference) and batted .300/.366/.532 with 63 extra-base hits (26 home runs) and 20 stolen bases in 138 games. Upton’s breakout campaign also led to his first All-Star selection.
His best season came in 2011 when the right fielder batted .289/.369/.529 with 31 home runs and 21 stolen bases in 159 games. Beyond his selection to a second All-Star Game, Upton’s 5.7 WAR performance resulted in a fourth-place finish in the National League MVP voting.
Signed to a six-year, $50 million contract before the 2010 season, Upton, 25, is owed $38 million over the next three seasons. If he produces as he did in 2011, such a price tag could be a bargain.
Shifting the focus to the minor leagues, I ask you this, loyal Prospect Pipeline readers: Is there a prospect with the potential to be the next Justin Upton?
To identify players with a similar ceiling, I looked at those with loud, but raw, tools and at least average secondary skills. More specifically, I targeted power-speed prospects who have the potential to reach the major leagues at a young age (though not necessarily as a teenager like Upton).
Here’s a look at seven prospects who could be the next Justin Upton.