D-Backs' Upton developing into a superstar - East Valley Tribune: Sports

D-Backs' Upton developing into a superstar

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Posted: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 10:45 pm | Updated: 2:35 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Scott Bordow: Do you understand what you're watching in Justin Upton? Do you really? We're witnessing is rare in sports: The birth of a true superstar.

Do you understand what you're watching in Justin Upton?

Do you really?

This isn't just a 21-year-old having a hot month: Over the past 31 games, Upton is hitting .372 with nine homers, 26 RBIs and 28 runs scored.

Upton isn't playing over his head either; although there's a pretty good chance he won't hit .372 the rest of the year.

No, what we're witnessing is rare in sports: The birth of a true superstar.

Upton homers twice, leads D-Backs over Padres

How lucky are we? Just five months ago our jaws dropped as Larry Fitzgerald become the best wide receiver in the NFL. Now here's Upton, so young but with talent so extraordinary that in a few years he'll be one of the five best players in baseball.

Yes, I said that. And I'm sticking to it.

"His future is definitely as bright as anyone's around," Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch said before Arizona's nail-biting 6-5 victory over San Diego Tuesday. "... There's nothing in this game he can't accomplish."

It's remarkable. Just six weeks ago, Upton opened the season 0-for-12 after hitting .190 in Cactus League games - and the Diamondbacks considered sending him to the minor leagues. Now he's one of the National League's most dangerous hitters: Before Monday's games he was fourth in slugging percentage (.616), tied for 13th in batting average (.325) and 18th in on-base percentage (.398).

That's Albert Pujols stuff. And did we mention Upton is 21?

"We all knew he was going to be something special," pitcher Brandon Webb said. "But yeah, it's amazing to see at this age how he can dominate like he is."

Now, Upton doesn't have it all figured out. Like any hitter, he'll have his slumps and runs of bad luck. In addition, he has work to do both defensively and on the base paths.

But his growth as a player is undeniable. In every single statistical category with the exception of strikeouts he has made significant progress since his rookie year.

One example: His on-base percentage is more than 100 points higher than it was in 2007.

"He's playing a very relaxed game," Hinch said. "His defense has improved, his hitting has improved and his confidence is at an all-time high at this level."

The talent was always there: In Baseball America's 2005 draft preview, Upton was tabbed the Best Athlete, Best Five-Tool Talent, Best Pure Hitter, Best Defensive Player and Closest to the Majors among high school players.

But what distinguishes Upton from his peers and nearly every other 21-year-old athlete is his maturity. When Upton was struggling the first week of the season and everyone from television analyst Mark Grace to newspaper columnists were poking holes in his swing, he quietly went about his business, never panicking or straying from what he believed in.

"There was no question I could play at this level," he said. "Spring doesn't count. I don't see anybody bringing up my spring training statistics now."

That quiet self-confidence Upton does interviews in what best can be described as a loud whisper hasn't changed now that he's become an All-Star caliber player. It's as if Upton has shut out the outside world, no matter whether he's hearing praise or criticism.

"He's a stable player," Hinch said. "... You'll see him get angry with himself and get frustrated when he doesn't do well, but he's composed. He's a guy that knows he's good and he's comfortable in his own skin. He's had a bulls-eye on his chest from the day he signed. He doesn't let a lot get to him."

When Upton was drafted by the Diamondbacks, he was compared to Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr. Both those players, however, were far more polished than Upton was when they crashed the major leagues.

Here's a better comparison: Imagine if Bo Jackson had stuck with baseball. 

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