Wednesday, March 17, 2004


So I'm reading Gleeman's Top 50 prospect list, and I'm not at all surprised to see Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton at #2.

Gleeman notes Upton's considerable success at the plate last year, easily moving from A and AA without seeming the slightest overmatched. Over all, he finished the year hitting .297/.390/.431 (.283 GPA). That's quite a feat for an 18 year old, let alone a shortstop, and suggests he's even slightly ahead of the Mets' phenom Jose Reyes. (Reyes hit .307/.337/.472 [.270 GPA] in the same South Atlantic A Ball league during his age 18 season.) Upton even has great speed, even if he maybe needs to work at picking his spots, going 40 for 61 in the stolen base department.

So, where does that put Upton with the recent greats? Gleeman compares Upton to how to the Big Six (the AL's Big Four plus the NL's Big Two) performed at the same age, and finds a striking parallel to Derek Jeter. Jeter hit .295/.376/.394 (.267 GPA) in his first full season in A ball at age 19.

OK, I know what you're thinking. A 18 year old with a .283 GPA versus a 19 year old with a .267 GPA? Upton is beating the snot out of Jeter, right? Well, kinda. I should explain. Gleeman lists Upton's 2003 season as his age 19 season, instead of the usual convention of using a player's age as of July 1. Since Upton's birthday is August 21, it was really his age 18 season. However, Jeter's birthday is in mid-June, so despite the fact those numbers are credited to his age 19 season, he was only a couple of months older--relatively speaking. Still, Upton was younger, better, and even held his own against stronger competiton. Imagine a stronger, faster, more patient Derek Jeter, and you've got an idea of Upton's upside. (Why PETCO isn't similarly optimistic baffles. Josh Wilson? Filipe Lopez? Upton is more patient than Wilson, makes more contact than Lopez, and has better speed than both of them. What indicators is PETCO using to make its predictions?)

But here's where it gets funny.

Probably the sole reason why Upton still rates behind Mauer (well, aside from the fact that Mauer has a longer track record of success) is because while Mauer is an excellent defensive catcher, Upton made some errors in 2003. OK, he made a lot of errors. 56 errors in 130 games. And yet... that's almost exactly what Jeter did at age 19.

Gleeman finds that 19 year old Derek Jeter committed 66 errors per 150 games in Single A, actually topping Upton's rate of 65 errors per 150 games.

Yet despite this, Gleeman doesn't really question Upton's reputation as a "good defensive shortstop".

Unlike Aaron, I'm not holding out much hope that Upton's "good defensive reputation" might one day lead "to actual good defense". Maybe I'm overreacting. Sure, Jeter doesn't make 65 errors anymore, but isn't that only because he's now so lacking in lateral range that merely a question of missed opportunity?

Besides, BP 2004 actually rates Upton's performance at SS last year somewhere between 25 and 10 runs worse than average. Considering Jeter himself still hovers around 15 runs worse than average, if I were the Devil Rays, I might want to start considering a move to 2B, 3B, or CF. Trying it when he's 19 and not 29 is probably best for all concerned. And the way he's hitting, he'll be valuable almost anywhere.

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