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Monday, June 01, 2009

The Next Generation (Part One)

A recent post from ESPN fantasy analyst Eric Karabell applauds Justin Upton's recent prolonged hot streak by saying, "Honestly, in a keeper league he's someone I'd target on a similar level to the top young players in the game, like Matt Wieters and David Price."

One would be tempted to gather from such a sentence construction that Karabell is saying something unusual or insightful, when in fact, this has to be seen as an incredible understatement. For one thing, the phrase "similar to the top young players in the game" is highly misleading. The necessity of declaring "similarity" would suggest that Upton is either older than said players or less likely to be considered "top." Justin Upton, despite the fact that he has nearly two full years more major league experience, is, in fact, two full years younger than either Price or Wieters, born August 25, 1987, whereas Price was born August 26, 1985 and Weiters on May 21 of that year. Both Price and Wieters, of course, elected to play college ball, which may or may not have delayed their development as major-leaguers, thus making them seem younger, when quite the opposite true.

So, the question is, what does Karabell mean by "top." Both Upton and Price were #1 overall draft picks (Wieters was #5) and the arrival of all three was highly anticipated. Each was handed a starting job (or closing job in the case of Price in 2008) upon arrival and all must be feeling the pressure of spectacular expectations. But while Wieters draws comparisions with Joe Mauer and Johnny Bench, and Price with C. C. Sabathia and John Smoltz, Upton has been forced to reconcile himself with a trio of outfielder who also entered the majors in their late teens (or very early twenties) with "five-tool" skills and went on to become arguably three of best to ever play the game: Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, and Ken Griffey Jr. Hype doesn't get any bigger than that.

My point is, Upton has flown under the radar recently because he plays in Arizona, because he battled injuries last season, and because he isn't the most recent call-up, but don't be tempted to rate him in any "level of young players" other than one unto himself (witness the 500-foot homerun he hit early in May). Since April 24th, when he ended a prolonged slump with a double off Tim Lincecum, Justin is hitting .373 with 9 HR, 28 RBI, 6 SB, and a 1153 OPS in 35 games. Mind you, at the age of 21. While Wieters ans Price very well may become perennial All-Stars, Justin Upton very well may be the future of game, dominating our perception of the sport the way Mays did in the 50s and 60s, Griffey did in the 90s, and Bonds did for most of this decade.

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