Next stop, stardom: 2011 breakout picks – Justin Upton

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Justin Upton has yet to become the MVP-caliber superstar expected from the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft and actually took a major step backward last season following a very strong 2009 performance, but I’m not sure most people fully realize just how rare it is for someone to be as productive as Upton’s been at such a young age.

He’s hit .272 with a .352 on-base percentage and .471 slugging percentage through 422 career games while averaging 21 homers and 72 RBIs per 600 plate appearances, which looks like good but not great production until you note that Upton made his MLB debut at age 19 and is still just 23 years old.

Here’s the complete list of all the players in the past 50 years to get at least 1,500 appearances through age 22 and post a higher OPS than Upton: Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, Ken Griffey Jr., Tony Conigliaro, Boog Powell, Cesar Cedeno. That’s it. That’s the whole list. And filling out the rest of the top 10, directly behind Upton on the list, are Johnny Bench, Andruw Jones, and Rickey Henderson. Suddenly the fact that his OPS dipped slightly below .800 last season doesn’t seem so damning, does it?

Upton’s high strikeout rate sticks out as a potential red flag for his development, but he’s already flashed 30-homer power and 20-steal speed to go along with above-average plate discipline and a good glove in right field. In terms of raw ability and physical tools very few players are in Upton’s league and he’s on the verge of making a name for himself–and surpassing his brother, B.J. Upton of the Rays–as one of the elite outfielders in the game.

My other 2011 breakout picks: Carlos Santana, Colby Rasmus, Derek HollandBrandon Morrow.

Another young fan was struck by a foul ball, this time at Guaranteed Rate Field

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ESPN reports via the Associated Press that a young boy was struck by a line drive foul ball but was not seriously injured during Sunday afternoon’s game against the Royals. The boy and a woman were escorted by a first aid crew to the concourse area and the boy was later eating ice cream in a luxury suite.

A woman was struck in the face by a foul ball also on the first base side at Guaranteed Rate Field on Friday, but she didn’t request medical assistance.

Last week, a young fan at Yankee Stadium was hit by a line drive foul ball, which motivated several teams to commit to extending protective netting at their ballparks. The Yankees, strangely, were not among them. Nor were the White Sox.

Diamondbacks clinch NL Wild Card

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Losses by the Cardinals to the Pirates and the Brewers to the Cubs on Sunday clinched an NL Wild Card berth for the Diamondbacks. Their walk-off, 3-2 win over the Marlins earned them hosting rights for the Wild Card game.

The D-Backs, now 90-66, trailed the Marlins 2-1 going into the bottom of the eighth. Daniel Descalso tied the game at two apiece with an RBI single off of Brad Ziegler. Second half hero J.D. Martinez secured the win with a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth against Javy Guerra.

The Rockies beat the Padres on Sunday to increase their lead over the Brewers (+2) and Cardinals (+2.5) for the second Wild Card slot. One of these three teams will visit Arizona for the Wild Card game.

The Diamondbacks are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011, when they lost the Division Series in five games to the Brewers.