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Diamondbacks Take Upton With First Pick

By Jim Callis
June 7, 2005

Eight days after landing one franchise shortstop, the Diamondbacks landed another.

With the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 first-year player draft on Tuesday, Arizona selected Great Bridge High (Chesapeake, Va.) shortstop Justin Upton. With Upton and 2004 first-rounder Stephen Drew, who signed May 30 after a record holdout of nearly a year, the Diamondbacks now have snapped up the top-rated position players in each of the last two drafts.

"I'm ecstatic about it," said Arizona scouting director Mike Rizzo, who ranked Drew atop his draft board in 2004. "I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to do it. I'm glad we decided to take both of them, and I'm glad we had the ability to sign Stephen and to sign Justin in the future."

Upton and his older brother B.J., who went second overall in 2002 to the Devil Rays, became the highest-drafted siblings in draft history. B.J., whose Triple-A Durham club was playing at nearby Norfolk, was among several family members and friends who gathered in the library at Great Bridge High to follow the draft over the Internet.

Justin, who met with Arizona on Sunday and Kansas City (which held the second pick) on Monday, said he didn't know he was going to be a Diamondback until he heard his name on the Internet broadcast. The Royals had called shortly before the draft started at 1 p.m. Eastern to tell him they'd take him at No. 2 if given the opportunity.

Rizzo said Upton had been his favorite for months among a group of candidates that also included three college righthanders, Mike Pelfrey (Wichita State), Luke Hochevar (Tennessee) and Craig Hansen (St. John's). The Diamondbacks finalized their decision to take Upton on Monday night.

"It's been a long time coming and it's finally come true for me," Upton said. "My heart was pounding a little bit and when I got the news, it was just a real good moment for me."

Upton had been billed as a potential No. 1 overall pick since a standout performance as a 14-year-old at the Area Code Games. While many young players have struggled, Upton never faltered, maintaining his status by continually excelling at showcases and on U.S. national teams.

"I heard that talk," Upton said, "The way I dealt with it was by playing the way I had been playing, trying to keep the pressure off my back."

Few high school players in recent memory can compare to Upton. He's considered slightly better than B.J. was at the same stage of their careers, as the 6-foot-2, 187-pound Justin is stronger, faster and more advanced as a hitter. The only real knock on Justin, as with B.J., is that he's erratic making throws from shortstop.

While some scouts have said they would move Upton to center field and envisioned him becoming the next Ken Griffey Jr., Rizzo said the Diamondbacks believe he can play shortstop and have no plans to change his position. Once he signs, Upton will begin his professional career at Missoula in the Rookie-level Pioneer League.

Baseball sources indicate that in preliminary discussions, Arizona opened with a $4 million straight bonus, while the Uptons (advised by Larry Reynolds) countered with a contract similar to the $5.5 million big league contract the club gave Drew. While Rizzo said there were no guarantees, he hoped to get Upton out playing quickly.

Royals Grab Gordon At No. 2

Most teams ranked Upton and Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon, a five-tool player who's the most complete hitter in college baseball, as the top two prospects in the draft. Though some clubs thought the Royals might try to save some money on the No. 2 pick, they insisted otherwise all along and proved it by taking Gordon, who may command a major league deal worth approximately $5 million.

With the third choice, the Mariners made a late switch from their initial preference for Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. They took Southern California catcher Jeff Clement, a power hitter who holds the national high school record with 75 homers.

The Nationals followed with Virginia third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who stands out with his bat control and Gold Glove defensive ability. Zimmerman became the highest-drafted player to sign on Tuesday, accepting a $2.975 million bonus.

When the Brewers opted for sweet-swinging Miami third baseman Ryan Braun, it marked the first time in draft history that the first five picks were position players. The Blue Jays ended the run on bats with Cal State Fullerton's Ricky Romero, the top lefthander in a draft thin at that position.

At No. 7, the Rockies planned on gauging the signability of Hochevar, a Colorado native advised by Boras, who directed the nearly yearlong holdouts of Drew and fellow 2004 first-rounder Jered Weaver. But when they suddenly realized they could have Tulowitzki, often compared to his Long Beach shortstop predecessor Bobby Crosby, that made their choice easy.

Former Rice righthander Wade Townsend went eighth overall for the second straight year, this time to the Devil Rays, becoming the 13th player in draft history to go in the first round of two consecutive June drafts (not including secondary phases). Townsend, who became embroiled in contentious negotiations when Baltimore lowballed him in 2004, is expected to be a relatively easy sign.

Pelfrey, the top pitching prospect available, finally went No. 9 to the Mets. The Tigers rounded out the top 10 with the unexpected windfall of athletic North Carolina high school outfielder Cameron Maybin, Baseball America's third-rated prospect in the draft.

Red Sox, Dodgers Get Top Arms

There were few surprises in the first round of the draft. Texas Christian righthander Lance Broadway was generating the most positive momentum as the draft approached, pitching himself from a late supplemental first-round pick to the No. 15 choice by the White Sox in the last three weeks. The Rangers caught several teams off guard when they used the No. 19 pick on Stanford first baseman/outfielder John Mayberry Jr., who has slumped as a junior.

The most uncertainty surrounded the destination of Boras' stable of seven potential first-rounders: Pelfrey, Hochevar, Hansen, Utah high school lefthander Mark Pawelek, Baylor righty Mark McCormick, Texas catcher Taylor Teagarden and Georgia Tech shortstop Tyler Greene. Because his players rarely sign quickly and generally are more expensive than others, some teams won't draft them at all and others mostly avoid them.

Pelfrey, Hochevar and Hansen were the consensus top pitching prospects in this draft and all are believed to be seeking big league contracts in the neighborhood of $5 million, similar to what their counterparts in the 2004 draft got. But while Pelfrey found a home with the Mets, Hansen plunged to the Red Sox at No. 26 and Hochevar fell all the way out of the first round and into the compensation round to the Dodgers at No. 40.

Even the Yankees, desperate to infuse talent into a weak farm system, passed on both with the 17th choice. New York won't give out a major league deal to a draft pick.

"We let everyone know the price each player wanted at the top level," Boras said.

Though Boston and Los Angeles acknowledged that negotiations with Hansen and Hochevar weren't likely to be brief, both clubs were delighted to get quality arms in low draft slots.

"If you would have told us yesterday that our first two picks would be [Oregon State outfielder] Jacoby Ellsbury and Craig Hansen," first-year Red Sox scouting director Jason McLeod said, "I would have done cartwheels down our hall."

In 2002, scouting director Logan White's first draft with the Dodgers, he selected Hochevar in the 39th round out of Fowler (Colo.) High. After Hochevar decided to attend Tennessee--his asking price at that point was $700,000--White predicted that he'd become a first-rounder three years later.

"We looked at it when it got to 40, and with a chance to take a guy like that we had to do it," White said. "We like his stuff and his makeup, and we had to do it."

Boras, who also turns clubs off with his adamant refusal to discuss predraft deals, apparently cut one this year with the Cubs for Pawelek. Chicago took him 20th overall, then announced his signing in the middle of the third round. Pawelek received a $1.75 million bonus, $250,000 more than that draft slot received a year ago.

After Hansen, Greene was the next Boras client selected, going 30th to the Cardinals. McCormick went in the supplemental first round to St. Louis at No. 43, while Teagarden slipped to No. 99 for the Rangers in the third round.