06/04/2002 2:29 PM ET
Rays select Upton with first pick
By Damon Young / MLB.com
|Baseball America rates B.J. Upton one of the nation's top position players, and he's not too bad on the mound, either. (Courtesy Andy Riddick)
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Devil Rays hope they filled a large void in their farm system when they selected highly touted Virginia prep shortstop Melvin "B.J." Upton with the second pick in baseball's annual First-Year Player Draft Tuesday.
The Rays, who lack a legitimate impact player at shortstop in the minor leagues, followed Pittsburgh's selection of right-handed pitcher Bryan Bullington (of Ball State University) by going to the high school ranks for their first pick. Five of Tampa Bay's six first-round picks have been high school athletes. Only right-handed pitcher Dewon
Brazelton, the team's first-round selection (No. 2 overall) last year, came from the college ranks.
"We think this organization got better today with a chance to get into our system an outstanding young ballplayer who plays a premium position," said scouting director Dan Jennings. "We have scouted this young man since he was about 15 years old. It was not an easy decision in our room. ... We just felt as an organization a chance to get a premium
position player, with the history we have on B.J. and his abilities now and in the future, that this was the best decision we could make."
In its annual draft preview, Baseball America rated Upton the No. 1 prospect among this year's draftees. The 17-year-old, who has been compared -- and has compared himself to -- to Yankees All-Star shortstop Derek Jeter was also rated the top defensive player and listed as having the best arm strength among all high school prospects. He was also tabbed as the third-fastest prep base runner.
Body now similar to Alfonso Soriano. Build will eventually resemble Mike Cameron. Gap-to-gap, line-drive stroke. Ball jumps. Plus runner, especially from 1B to 3B. Soft hands. Above-average arm, more when needed. True shortstop tools and ability. Defensive skills to play center field. Has range and covers gaps with ease, similar to Doug Glanville.
When asked how he would describe his style of play on the field, Upton matter-of-factly replied, "You ever seen Derek Jeter play?"
"This is a player with that kind of athleticism," said Chuck LaMar, the Rays general manager, of the comparison. "Whether he ever ends up being Derek Jeter not, who knows. That's a lot of pressure and a lot of hype for a 17-year-old young man."
"I think his skills are where a 17-year-old's should be," Jennings said. "Obviously, they're extremely good or he wouldn't have been the second pick. But I don't see a glaring weakness where he needs to do 'this' for the entire package to come together. What he does need to do is play the game at a much faster pace, which he'll get in the minor leagues."
"We're awfully glad to have him because of ability, because of makeup, and because of the position," said LaMar. "You just don't get your hands on a high school shortstop with that kind of ability very often. You know the battles we've fought at shortstop throughout the years. You take somebody like this this high in the draft, sooner or later you think he's going to fill that hole at the Major League level."
"It feels great," Upton, who has already signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Florida State University, said via conference call after the first round. "(The Devil Rays) are young, they still got a lot of room to get better. They're not bad, they just have a young team right now."
Manny Upton, B.J.'s father, who is a part-time scout for Kansas City, obviously thinks highly of his son. "I think he's a five-tool player," said the elder Upton. "I can say that now since he's already been drafted. I wouldn't tell him
During his senior season at Greenbrier Christian Academy (Chesapeake, Va.), Upton hit .641 (50-for-78) with 11 doubles, four triples, 11 homers, 32 RBIs and 21 stolen bases (21-for-21). He also walked 24 times -- 11 intentional -- while striking out just twice. Greenbrier finished its season 25-1.
Upton, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 180 pounds, also went 5-0 with a 0.33 ERA on the mound. The right-hander tossed two no-hitters and struck out 78 over 43 innings.
After leading Greenbrier to the private school state championship during his junior season, Upton played on the Team USA Junior National team that went 9-2 and won the silver medal in Cuba.
Now Tampa Bay's attention turns to getting Upton, who has already signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Florida State University, signed and in a Devil Rays uniform. Manny Upton denied Monday's published report that his son had rejected a pre-draft offer from the Pirates.
"I just want what's best for him," Manny said of the upcoming negotiations. "I don't see any barriers there at all."
B.J. Upton indicated he has not yet made up his mind where his next stop will be.
"I've been wanting to go to Florida State my whole life, and playing MLB has been my dream," B.J. said. "Now, I kind of have to wait and see how things go."
Lamar cautioned that the process of bringing Upton on board might not be immediate.
"We'd love to get it done quickly," LaMar said, "but percentages say and past experience says this is going to be a process that takes a while. I think at the end of the day B.J Upton's going to be a Tampa Bay Devil Ray. We're going to sign him but don't be surprised if the negotiations take time as most high picks do now."
Jennings said the organization will gauge Upton's progress based on Upton's own performance, not how he matches up to outsized expectations.
"I think when he's ready, he'll let you know by how he's performing and over-matching the certain leagues that he's playing in," Jennings said. "I'm not a big believer in putting timetables or comparisons. This guy reminds me of B.J. Upton. He's got a chance to be a real good player."
Damon P. Young is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.