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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.

Report: Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on Sonny Gray

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06: Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
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The Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on starting pitcher Sonny Gray, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The Astros have added Charlie Morton this offseason, but the club has been trying to add a big-name starting pitcher to put at the top of the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel.

Gray, 27, was limited to 22 starts in the 2016 season due to a forearm issue. His stats left a lot to be desired, as he finished with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio over 117 innings. Considering how Gray pitched in the previous three years, he’s a good bet to bounce back.

Gray is under team control through 2019, which is a big draw for the Astros. Needless to say, the Athletics would want a haul in terms of prospects. Gray will earn $3.575 million in 2017, having avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility.

President Obama Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

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As we noted last week, The Chicago Cubs took the unusual step of not waiting until the summer after winning the World Series to make their customary White House visit to meet the president. They did it today, seeing President Obama a few short days before he leaves office.

Despite the fact that Obama is a White Sox fan, he met the Cubs with diplomacy and grace. It’s almost as if he’s been in that business for the past eight years. In return, he was given some gifts by the Cubs: Theo Epstein presented Obama with a No. 44 Cubs jersey, a tile from the center field scoreboard at Wrigley Field, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley as well.

Obama is staying in D.C. after he leaves office this week, hanging around so his daughter can finish high school in the same place she started. Even so, he’s likely going to be back to Chicago a good bit over the rest of his life, so he’ll likely be able to put the free pass to work. Assuming it comes with, like, six companion passes for his Secret Service detail.