|Young Upton stays grounded amid huge expectations|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 26 February 2008 16:50|
The first overall pick in the 2005 draft, he made it to the majors last season at 19, with a graceful swing that led to comparisons with Ken Griffey Jr.
After a torrid start, struggles with major league pitching followed. At the ripe old age of 20, Upton is approaching his first big league opening day knowing he still must prove himself in the majors.
``It's nice they had confidence in me to bring me in last year, and I had a chance to contribute to a great team,'' Upton said Tuesday. ``This year I still have to come to camp and bust my tail a little bit and make sure that I get my work done so on opening day I definitely can contribute.''
The younger brother of Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton - a No. 2 overall draft pick - Justin was a phenomenal shortstop in high school, but the Diamondbacks already had Stephen Drew there so he switched to center in the minors. When it was time to come to the big club, standout Chris Young was in center.
So Upton found himself on the big stage in right field, a position unfamiliar to him. Now, he said, he's ready to settle in there. General manager Josh Byrnes points out that, with Eric Byrnes in left, Arizona essentially has three center fielders in the outfield.
That's a nice situation, Upton said.
``We've got a lot of speed,'' he said. ``Our goal is not to let a lot of stuff drop out there. With three guys who are capable of playing center field, that's a pretty good outfield to be working with.''
The Diamondbacks weren't getting much offensive production out of right field when they brought up Upton on Aug. 6. His promotion had two purposes.
``Obviously we were in a pennant race, so the primary reason was to give us our best chance to win,'' Josh Byrnes said, ``but also to build experience. It's tough for guys where opening day is their first day, so to the extent you can avoid that, that's always a good thing.''
In his third, fourth and fifth major league games, he was a combined 7-for-12 with three doubles, a triple and home run. Then came the inevitable adjustments by major league pitchers, and Upton's average plummeted to .221 by season's end.
But Upton kept working, and began connecting again in the postseason, hitting .357 in six games.
``He handled it well, I mean, he turned 20 in the big leagues,'' manager Bob Melvin said. ``Justin is intense and he expects a lot out of himself. I don't think he enjoyed struggling but I think he handled it in a very mature way - and came out of it with a great October.''
Upton said he's had similar troubles before.
``At the lower levels, I struggled a lot my first year,'' he said. ``Struggling is not new to me. It's good that I got that out of my way, then last year when I had to make adjustments, I was a little more relaxed under the situation, being able to slow myself down and handle the situation a little better.''
As for the lofty expectations, Upton said his older teammates keep him humble, particularly the ever-talking ``O-Dawg,'' second baseman Orlando Hudson. He also surely noticed the signing of veteran Trot Nixon gives Arizona an option should Upton falter out of the gate.
``You've got guys like O-Dawg who tell you basically that you haven't done anything yet and there's a lot of work for you to be doing,'' Upton said. ``The people around you keep you levelheaded. Also I came from a family where we always worked hard. No matter where people want to put you, you've got to work to get there.''