The Diamondbacks have finally agreed to terms with 2005 1st Round Amateur Draft selection Justin Upton. Upton, the younger brother of Devil Rays infielder B.J. Upton, was recognized as the 2005 Gatorade High School Player of the Year.
The 6-month stalemate was rumored to persist because the Chesapeake, VA high school Shortstop's representatives continually angled for a major league contract on par with 2004 Diamondbacks draftee Stephen Drew. In the end, the 18 year-old Upton agreed to a traditional minor league deal in which he is expected to receive $6.1 million of signing bonus paid over the course of the next 5 years. Upton will reportedly receive approximately $900k up front, $1 million in 2007 and 2008, $1.3 million in 2009, and $2 million in 2010.
Comparatively, the major league contract of Stephen Drew (a drafted collegiate player) provided the following:
- $5.5 million in salary from 2005-2009
- Up to $4 million in signing bonus paid incrementally from 2006-2009, beginning when Drew makes the 25-man roster for good.
- $2 million in attainable performance bonuses once Drew is active on the big league roster
- A spot on the Diamondbacks' 40-man roster, thereby giving Drew the ability to be called up to the Diamondbacks
Since Upton's deal was not a "major league contract", Upton will receive a non-roster Spring Training invite with the Diamondbacks. Typically, the minor leaguers at camp will hold intra-squad games against one another at the home fields when the major league camp has road Spring Training games. While it hasn't been announced, expect Upton to ultimately be assigned to the Single-A Lancaster JetHawks. If all goes well, Upton could be with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies before the end of the season. In 2007, he's likely to begin with the Smokies with potential for some time with the Triple-A Tucson Sidewinders. At the earliest, we could have some Upton sightings in Phoenix during the 2008 season.
Futurebacks.com has been asked what the perceived "ripple effect" in the organization may be with the Upton signing, specifically because of the fact that Stephen Drew and Justin Upton primarily play the same position. Since Drew, 24, is much closer to the majors, such speculation is extremely premature. For the sake of discussion, let's look at the options.
At SS, the Diamondbacks are likely to see Craig Counsell hold down the fort in 2006 until Stephen Drew is ready. Come 2008, if Upton has remained at SS in the minors, a position switch may be in the cards for Drew (who is thought to be defensively inferior to Upton).
At 3B, the Glaus trade allowed the D-Backs to find a permanent home for Chad Tracy. Like it or not, the logjam at SS and 3B created progression problems for former top prospect Sergio Santos. Chad Tracy has proven himself in the majors and is growing into a fan favorite, while the organization had too much invested in Drew to have Santos blocking his progress. Add this to the fact that someone from the 40-man roster had to be included in the Glaus deal, since the D-Backs were receiving two major league players from Toronto. Former 1st Round pick Corey Myers is no longer viewed as a significant challenger for the big league job. An intriguing player in the minors is Jaime D'Antona because of the power numbers he has posted. There is speculation that D'Antona may eventually move to 1st Base full time (he made a handful of starts there last season) but the presence of Conor Jackson at the big league level certainly hinders D'Antona's chances of sticking with this organization at that position.
At 2B, the Diamondbacks are finally set with Gold Glover Orlando Hudson. A wave of talented prospects such as Justin Upton and the speedy Emilio Bonifacio have the potential to eventually force a Hudson trade, but such consideration is several seasons away from fruition.
In CF, the Diamondbacks have signed Eric Byrnes as a stopgap until newly-acquired Chris Young is ready. Young, who hit .277 with 26 HR and 77 RBI for Double-A Birmingham in the Chicago White Sox organization last season, has the power / speed / defense combination that the team has lacked since the departure of Steve Finley. Prospect Marland Williams took a significant step backward in 2005 and has been surpassed by Young in the minds of management. Likewise, Luis Terrero has been given every opportunity to grab the position and run with it at the major league level. But, his efforts have continually come up short of expectation. If Drew refuses to relent the SS position, Justin Upton may someday find himself in a dogfight with Chris Young for CF. Prospects such as Jarred Ball and Steve Garrabrants may eventually fill backup roles with the big club.
In LF, Luis Gonzalez is preparing for the "fairwell tour". Gonzalez has meant so much to the organization that he deserves to go out on his terms. However, the Diamondbacks simply cannot wait until Shawn Green is no longer with the team in 2008 to give Carlos Quentin an opportunity. Expect that 2006 will mark the end of Gonzo's D-Backs career and hope that he is ready to hang up the cleats and join the front office. Gonzo has a mutual option for 2007, but it is unlikely that the organization will commit to $10 million plus bonuses for that final year. Quentin could emerge during 2006 in a platoon role with Gonzo and Green, then formally take over in LF for 2007 and switch to his natural RF position for 2008 (if Green is not dealt sooner). Prospects such as Jon Zeringue and Carlos Gonzalez will eventually push for major league time in Left Field. The best case scenario would be a Green trade during 2006, so that Quentin can play RF sooner and Gonzo can go out on his terms. Scott Hairston is also a dark horse candidate for time in LF. On the Upton front, LF remains a possible position switch for Stephen Drew if the D-Backs decide that Upton is the eventual Shortstop.
As you can see by the information above, the Diamondbacks are presently in an enviable position where young talent already exists at the major league level and/or high-ceiling prospects will soon challenge for the everyday position in the majors. It is increasingly clear, however, that the Diamondbacks MUST focus on pitching during the next two amateur drafts in order to prepare this team for greatness in 2007 and beyond. Current management clearly has the ship steered in the right direction and the team is expected to be major players in the starter and reliever free agent markets after the 2006 season.
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