D-backs Farm Flashback is a new series coming to Az Snake Pit during the offseason, where I examine how former and current Diamondbacks players performed in the minor leagues. From decorated Hall of Famers and All-Stars, to spot starters and bench contributors, each professional baseball player worked their way to get to the major leagues. But how did their journey through the minor league ranks go? Let’s find out! Feel free to list any notable players or suggestions in the comments below.
The D-backs Farm Flashback series continues with former Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton. Upton spent six seasons in Arizona, collecting two All-Star appearances and one Silver Slugger award during his tenure.
Reigning from Great Bridge High School, Upton was the first Virginia native picked first overall in the 2005 MLB Draft. The slugging outfielder ranks eighth all-time in franchise history in games played (731), hits (739), doubles (147) and RBIs (363). He places fifth all-time in runs scored (438), sixth in home runs (108) and seventh in triples (28).
Before his powerful bat garnered high praise in the big leagues, Upton had immense pressure to perform in the minors as a vaunted No. 1 pick. Upton responded to the hype and advanced through three minor league levels on the way to his MLB debut with Arizona in 2007. He appeared in 15 Triple-A games with the Tucson Sidewinders in 2008.
2006: South Bend Silver Hawks (Full Class-A)
Season Statistics: 113 games, .263/.343/.413 (.757 OPS), 115 hits, 28 doubles, 1 triple, 12 home runs, 66 RBIs, 52 walks, 96 strikeouts, 15 stolen bases
Coming out of the draft, Upton’s first pro ball season with the Silver Hawks was a mix of highs and lows throughout the year. He posted a .327/.418/.474 slash line through May 22 before a midseason slump cooled his hot streak at the plate.
Upton still flashed his array of tools worthy of a No. 1 selection. He led the team in doubles while finishing second in homers, walks and stolen bases. Upton and Jay Bruce were two notable additions to the Midwest League All-Star team that season.
Upton was primarily a plug-and-play shortstop in high school, but his size, frame and athleticism prompted a move to the outfield in South Bend. He started 104 games in center field with four assists.
The Silver Hawks finished the regular season at 74-62, but narrowly missed a postseason appearance to the first-place West Michigan Whitecaps. For Upton, he had his first taste of professional baseball, and his highly touted power was on full display by next season.
2007: Visalia Rawhide, Mobile BayBears (High Class-A, Double-A)
Season Statistics: 103 games, .319/.410/.551 (.961 OPS), 123 hits, 23 doubles, 6 triples, 18 home runs, 70 RBIs, 56 walks, 79 strikeouts, 19 stolen bases
Upton put together a solid first season in 2006, but his power left a bit to be desired. That all changed by 2007, as Upton’s pure right-handed swing made fans sitting in the left field bleachers quite happy on most occasions.
Still well into his teens, Upton was thrusted to High Class-A Visalia. He made the most of his short stay, batting .341 with five homers, six doubles and 17 RBIs in just 32 games. His impressive performance earned a promotion to Double-A Mobile. Upton didn’t stop his offensive tear with a .309/.399/.556 slash line with 13 homers, 17 doubles and 53 RBIs in 71 games.
Upton’s untapped power and ability to make consistent hard contact was no longer in question, he showed just how effective he can be over a full season. Despite his young age, Upton showcased improved discipline at the plate, drastically cutting down his strikeout rate and increasing his on-base percentage by 67 points the year before.
As a result, Upton earned another midseason All-Star selection in the Southern League and represented the Diamondbacks in the Futures Game. Baseball America named him to its Double-A All-Star team, and USA Today named him its Minor League Player of the Year.
Upton’s impressive season put the minor leagues on notice, but bigger things were on the horizon.
After his strong performance across two minor league levels, it took less than two full seasons for Upton to make his MLB debut with the Diamondbacks.
He donned the Sedona red for the first time Aug. 2, 2007 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The outfielder finished the year with a .221/.283/.364 slash line with two homers, eight doubles and 11 RBIs in 43 games.
Upton would go on to play five more seasons in Arizona. He joined his brother BJ Upton in a seven-player trade to the Atlanta Braves on Jan. 24, 2013. Upton has since appeared in 1,739 games with the Diamondbacks, Braves, San Diego Padres, Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels over his 14-year career.
Upton has played with several different teams over his career, but his time with the Diamondbacks was memorable and underwhelming at times. He was a consistent producer in the lineup and produced several tape-measure shots to the “Uptown” section in Chase Field.
Barred with high expectations due to his lofty draft status and production in the minors, Upton’s tenure with Arizona came to a close after six seasons. He is entering the fourth year of a five-year, $106 million contract with the Angels.