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Why Justin Upton is not the Diamondbacks #1 prospect.

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With all due respect to John Sickels, I have to disagree with his assessment that Upton is our top prospect. I've seen very little out of his performance so far to justify his position as a #1 pick, or the obscene bonus paid to someone who had never faced anything apart from high-school pitching. The results of his first season in the minor-leagues have been less than spectacular, with a mediocre .263 average in A-ball. "Coasting," is how Sickels refers to Upton, and it's also been suggested that having to learn a new position has hurt his performance at the plate. Not that it seemed to bother Chad Tracy in 2005, I note...

But such sniping aside, I would have to put Chris Young ahead of Upton. Indeed, based on their performances, you could argue that Carlos Gonzalez and even Alberto Callaspo had better debut years than Upton. Here are the A-ball seasons for the top five prospects on Sickels' list, with the names removed to avoid any bias caused by expectations:

            BA  OBP  SLG  OPS  HR Age
Player A: .263 .343 .413 .756  12  19
Player B: .262 .365 .505 .870  24  20
Player C: .307 .371 .489 .860  18  19
Player D: .263 .330 .409 .739  11  22
Player E: .327 .377 .428 .805   2  20

Digested those? Now, I'll tell you that Player A is Justin Upton, B is Chris Young, C is Carlos Gonzalez, D is Miguel Montero, and E is Alberto Callaspo. Obviously, park factors may need to be taken into effect, since they didn't all play for the same A-ball club, but it's clear that Upton's performance, so far, falls well short of what I would expect from an A- prospect. It's by no means bad - Levski on DBBP pointed out that it's still about a 125 OPS+ - but there's a point where the hype has to be replaced by actual performance. For me, that point comes when you cash the bonus check, and Upton has not yet justified his position as a #1.

Of course, there's no denying it's very early days, and it could even be argued that his potential ceiling is greater than anyone else's in the organization. But pop quiz, folks - which would you rather have? A .756 OPS in A-ball, or a .896 OPS in Triple-A, as posted by Chris Young? Or the .882 for Callaspo? Or the .911 for Montero? Even taking age and park factors into account, the vastly-improved pitching you'll face in Triple-A leaves no doubt in my mind which is more impressive. I seriously doubt any other prospect posting Upton's level of production, at that grade of baseball, would merit inclusion in an organization's top 10, especially one as strong as Arizona's.

Without seriously-mitigating circumstances, such as injury, I certainly can't list him as our #1. Indeed, here would be my order for the top five:

  1. Chris Young
  2. Miguel Montero
  3. Carlos Gonzalez
  4. Justin Upton
  5. Alberto Callaspo

I certainly admit it's hard to say what are my precise justifications for this order. It's a combination of age, position, production and level: the core element is, what I expect them to deliver at the major-league level, and that is based mainly on what they've delivered at the minor-league level. Thus far, the evidence is slim to vindicate Upton's selection as the best available prospect in baseball at the time - and in a list from Sickels' I saw, is still in the top ten of all prospects. I'm certainly not writing him off yet, by any means, and I very much hope that in 2007 we see him produce what, by most informed accounts, he is capable of delivering.

Well, that might have been the most boring set of winter meetings ever: only three trades over all of baseball. Not even a credible whisper of a deal for the Diamondbacks, who come back to Arizona still a) lacking a starting pitcher, and b) with Eric Byrnes on the roster. Said Josh Byrnes, "We just haven't been able to get to a deal we liked. We've been close to getting a deal, but nothing that made sense." Still, he seemed optimistic about following up on some threads, perhaps involving our slew of back-end starters.

Or, better yet, Eric, since there are still a number of teams in the market for an outfielder, especially as the available options in the free-agent market evaporate. Both Chicago teams, as well as the Pirates, Reds, Rangers and Marlins, are all reported to be in need, in varying degrees and positions. We might have to send the last-named some cash with Byrnes (as he'd be earning about as much as their entire pitching staff put together, save D-Train!), but we'd certainly be happy to assist Florida with their slew of young arms.

I see Miguel Batista is signing his book at The Poisoned Pen bookstone here in Phoenix today. Was hoping to get there - Miggy always seemed like he'd be a fascinating character to talk to - but as I sit here in my boxers, and the signing session reaches the half-way mark at time of writing, the possibility seems to be fading. However, I think a Christmas present for Mrs. SnakePit could certainly be in the offing...

Oh, and stay tuned tomorrow for an announcement about AZ SnakePit. I have seen the future, and it's kinda cool. ;-)