The Upton Question

Michael WatersContributor IMarch 16, 2010

PHOENIX - AUGUST 29:  Justin Upton #10 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits a RBI single against the Houston Astros during the third inning of the major league baseball game at Chase Field on August 29, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When Justin Upton signed his six-year, $51.25 million contract, it not only signified that the Diamondbacks were committed to Upton, but also that the 22-year-old was ready to step into his seemingly reserved role as one of baseball’s elite outfielders.

But the deal also sent another message to baseball fans. A little less than a month earlier B.J. Upton lost his arbitration case to the Tampa Bay Rays, resulting in a salary of $3 million for the 2010 season. B.J. filed for $3.3 million.

Although Justin will only earn $500,000 this year aside from his $1.25 million bonus, he has already earned longtime security after only two full MLB seasons. Justin will earn $14.5 million in the final year of his contract in 2015, the second largest contract in the history of the Diamondbacks.

The contracts signed by the brothers painted two completely different pictures. Justin has been anointed as the Diamondbacks' franchise player for years to come, while B.J. hasn’t earned more than a year-by-year contract in the eyes of Tampa Bay brass. Is this a sign of things to come for the Upton brothers?

When Arizona selected Justin Upton as the No. 1 overall pick in 2006, he was heralded as the next Ken Griffey Jr. Upton had his initial troubles, but in 2009 he emerged with his breakout year at the ripe age of 21 years old. He hit .300, batting in 86 runs, and hit 26 homers.

Justin still needs to sharpen his defensive skills in right field and prove he can continue to maintain and raise his average; however, the sky is the limit for a young player with so much talent.

Justin had a nearly identical average before (.301) and after (.300) the All-Star break last year. His average against left-handed hitters was an astronomical .377, and his average against righties hovered under .300 at .277.

Because of his 2009 campaign and five-tool potential, Justin has become a favorite of baseball purists and fantasy players alike. But older brother B.J. finds himself in a drastically different position after an abysmal 2009 season. B.J. must prove that he can harness his potential and put together another season like 2007.

In 2007, B.J. was in the enviable position of his little brother, the young phenom with seemingly limitless upside, after hitting .300 with 24 homers. B.J. also displayed his blazing speed, grabbing 22 stolen bases.

Since that time B.J.’s numbers at the plate have decreased dramatically and consistently. His average dropped to .273 in 2008 and even lower to .241 in 2009.

In addition, many have begun to regard his power numbers as an anomaly after only totaling 20 home runs between the last two seasons. It is very possible B.J. may never reclaim his power numbers from 2007 because B.J. never hit more than 20 homers in the minors.

The one bright spot for B.J. has been on the basepaths. B.J. is still an outfielder with elite speed, which has garnered him 44 and 42 stolen bases respectively in the past two seasons.

Alongside the rapid ascension of his brother Justin into stardom, some may consider B.J. to be the lesser player. But it is easy to forget that B.J. is still only 25 years old, an age when many future major league players are still honing their skills in the minors.

Reports are that B.J. has added about seven pounds to his light frame, and his left shoulder injury appears to be fully healed from surgery. Rays manager Joe Maddon has also expressed that B.J. has reported to camp ready to rid himself of some of the things that plagued his play in the past, like not running out ground balls.

Despite the confidence of Maddon, B.J. will need to perform for a whole season to become one of the Rays' long-term, cornerstone players. Maddon has openly discussed batting Upton as low as seventh in the batting order, so he will have his work cut out for him.

One point that should be given consideration is the advantage Justin had in getting advice from his older brother. Although this can never be quantified, I would be willing to bet that B.J. helped Justin avoid some of the pitfalls that have sidetracked his success.

Only time will tell who will emerge as the better player, but it is almost certain that both Upton brothers will have long and entertaining big league careers. They are simply too talented to not succeed.