J-Up

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There are many ways Justin Upton can beat a team. For instance, he may line a three-run double into the gap like he did during last Saturday’s 6-4 victory over the Dodgers, turn in a marvelous over-the-shoulder catch, nail a runner at the plate, or swipe a base that leads to the winning run.

For sure, the 23-year-old budding superstar right fielder for Arizona (59-49) has received rave reviews in what has been a break-out season.

Upton’s skill in the batter’s box and outfield has been a key in the Diamondbacks’ rise to the top of the National League West. They are within two games of the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

Through last Sunday Upton is hitting .303 with 21 homers, 65 runs batted in, 68 runs scored, and has a .550 slugging percentage. Upton leads the NL with 30 doubles, extra-base hits, and has four triples with 16 stolen bases.

This should come as no surprise given that Upton was chosen first overall by Arizona in the 2005 draft, and has been on the fast-track ever since.

Upton’s climb to the big leagues was rapid, and it came when he was 19 years old. At an age when most are toiling in the minor leagues, Upton, a two-time All-Star, showed maturity beyond his youth.

According to Peter Gammons, a longtime baseball columnist turned television analyst, one Major League Baseball general manager said of him. “Upton is the best 20-year-old I’ve ever seen.”

Upton is a five-tool player, which means he can hit, hit for power, run, field and throw at an elite level.

Consider most major leaguers have two or three tools, let alone four. So it’s rare to find a player with five, but Upton fits into the mold of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Reggie Jackson, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey Jr., whom he’s most-often compared to.

Rest assured Upton, like his older brother B.J. who plays center field for Tampa Bay, is that unique player.

In fact, the Upton brothers are the only two in big-league history drafted first and second.

Upton is the perfect physical specimen to play hardball. At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, the right-handed hitter is both graceful and powerful.

A pull hitter, Upton can also push the ball to right field, which drives defenders up the wall.

Under Manager Kirk Gibson, the Diamondbacks have improved steadily, and will seemingly contend for some time.

During Gibson’s career primarily with Detroit and the Dodgers, he was known as hard-nosed and no-nonsense. Gibson played baseball like a football player, which he was at Michigan State.

Upton plays the same way, and can sometimes even be too hard on himself. In Friday’s 9-5 loss to the Dodgers, Upton botched a play in the outfield.

When he returned to the dugout, he was furious, scattering and smashing several large Gatorade jugs with his bat.

Upton cooled down, but took responsibility, saying he let the team down. Upton is the leader, and Gibson, a two-time World Series winner, would have it no other way.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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