While there’s some question as to who’s better between Carl Crawford and Carlos Gonzalez or between Ryan Braun and Matt Holliday, there’s little doubt that those are the top four outfielders. The outfielders after them are a different story.
Enter Justin Upton and Alex Rios.
Upton is one of baseball’s top young players. It’s no surprise then that when Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers put his name on the trading block a few months back, almost every team made an offer. Towers wisely pulled him off the block after he realized he couldn’t risk trading away someone as talented as Upton.
Rios had a career year in his first full season with the White Sox. He’ll look to continue to prove that his disastrous season in 2009, in which the Blue Jays placed him on waivers and didn’t even demand a player in return, was an anomaly.
Today we’ll decide which outfielder should be drafted first.
Each player is assigned a grade for each of the five standard offensive categories plus a few extra I felt were important to factor. Grades are based on my expectations for the season and take into account the player’s expected performance both relative to the entire player pool and relative to the position he plays. Grades were averaged using the standard 4.0 GPA scale to provide a cumulative “Professor’s Grade.”
|Category ||Justin Upton||Alex Rios||Edge?|
|Professor's Grade||3.34 (B+)||3.24 (B)||Upton|
|Runs Batted In||A-||B||Upton|
The Case for Upton
After batting .300 with 26 HR and 20 SB in 2009, Upton was destined for stardom in 2010. Unfortunately, he failed to reach 20 HR or 20 SB and saw his batting average dip to .273 before a shoulder injury forced him to miss most of September.
It’s easy to forget that Upton is still just 23 years old. The former No. 1 overall pick has all the tools you look for in an elite fantasy player. Not counting the freakishly strong Mike Stanton, Upton has the most power of any major leaguer under the age of 24. He’s also athletic enough to steal 20-plus bases, a feat he has already accomplished in his young career.
As if that’s not tantalizing enough, he’ll be batting out of the three-hole in a hitter’s ballpark.
Despite Upton’s disappointing stats last year, there were signs of encouragement. His walk rate was 11.2 percent, up from 9.4 percent in his breakout 2009 season. It’s rare for a player as young as Upton to show such a knack for drawing walks, and it will only help increase his R and SB potential. Upton also improved his line-drive rate and GB/FB ratio, which bodes well for an increase in power and batting average.
The sky is the limit for Upton, and he certainly has the potential to produce first-round numbers.
The Case for Rios
Rios truly is a five-category producer. He was one of three players to reach 20 HR and 30 SB in 2010, with Hanley Ramirez and Drew Stubbs being the others. It was the second time Rios reached both of those marks and the first time he did so in the same season.
Rios is also one of the few power-speed players that won’t hurt your batting average. If you take out his 2009 season, Rios hasn’t batted less than .284 since 2005.
Furthermore, Rios plays in a hitter-friendly lineup. He’s surrounded by talented players such as Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Carlos Quentin, Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez. While he doesn’t have the same potential as Upton, he has shown more consistency and durability.
Who Should I Draft?
Upton and Rios are close in value, but I believe Upton is the better pick. From the chart above you can see that they each have the advantage in three categories, but Upton has the better overall grade.
You can also see that Upton has a distinct power advantage, a skill set that is becoming harder to find. The only real categorical advantage that Rios has is speed, but Upton will still contribute there for you. While Rios is definitely a safe pick due to his consistency, Upton’s potential is far too great to ignore.
He’s already one of the best young players in the game and has much room to grow. It’s for that reason that I’m taking Upton over Rios.
Check out our other head-to-head matchups, found only at Baseball Professor, as well as our other preseason coverage.