Fast forward to now. Arizona has locked Upton down to a 6-year contract and he’s having an incredible spring training. GM Josh Byrnes knew what he was doing when he signed Upton long-term, buying out a few of his arbitration and free agency years. The sky is the limit for this kid and Arizona could go as far as he can take them. He’s the type of guy who could have a Pujols-like impact on a lineup, meaning you put a bunch of guys around him who are just that; a bunch of guys, and watch them develop into formidable big league players. Upton could be baseball’s next 40/40 man and should put up monster numbers into the next decade if he stays healthy.
The lineup begins with shortstop Steven Drew. Drew is 28 years old and could be a candidate for 20 home runs and 70 RBI from the leadoff spot. While he’s not ever been able to have a superstar year that someone with his stock should have, he’s carving out an extremely solid big league career. Conor Jackson is a similarly solid type of player, and he’ll be in left field this year. He’s trying to rebound off a year in which he had a single home run and hit .182 for the year due to injury in 2009. Look for him to be a candidate for NL Comeback Player of the Year.
After Upton in the lineup comes the other guy in the lineup whose not worth leaving your seat when he’s at the plate, Mark Reynolds. Reynolds recently signed an extension with Arizona; which is a signal that they’re trying to keep their cornerstones. He hit 44 home runs and drove in 102 last season. We’d say he reminds us of Matt Williams, but he stole 24 bases last season!
Another candidate for a bouce back year is in center field, Chris Young. While he’s never hit above .248 in his big league career, he’s gone from hitting 32 homers to 22 to 15 last season. He’ll be just 26 this season, and we’d expect him to make a run at a career high in average and a median in the home run totals. He’ll also swipe about 25 bases if he can stay healthy.
Miguel Montero and Gerardo Parra are other guys in this lineup who swing it from the left side who are really worth keeping an eye on, as they could establish themselves as very solid players in this upstart Arizona organization.
The pitching staff is built around Danny Haren and Brandon Webb. Webb is returning from injury, while Haren is simply one of the elite in the league. They went out and got Edwin Jackson in free agency after his career year in Detroit. Don’t expect him to replicate those numbers in Arizona although the park plays similarly to Comerica (although not quite as friendly to pitchers).
The closer needs upgraded. Chad Qualls heads a group of guys who are less then satisfactory for manager A.J. Hinch. Clay Zeveda (lefty specialist), Aaron Heilman, and Bobby Howry are the names of note surrounding Qualls.
Overall, this is a team that we like to see win. Upton has superstar ability and the look of to carry the league’s logo on his back into the next decade. It’d be nice to see that guy log some meaningful at-bats. For that to happen, Arizona is going to have to surprise and add some more complimentary pieces. We think that Hinch falls short of being a manager that can take this team to the next level, but we’ll see.
The real reason to watch these guys is #10. He can truly do it all and do it all within 9 innings. There aren’t too many guys in this game you can say that about.