Shortly after the Devil Rays selected him with the second pick in the 2002 draft, shortstop B.J. Upton, then a 17year-old about to graduate from Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake, Va., was asked to describe what kind of player he was. "Ever seen Derek Jeter play?" Upton replied without hesitation.
Now he's getting a chance to back up his words. On Aug. 1 Upton was called up from Triple A Durham, making him, at 19, the youngest player in the majors. And after hitting .351 with two doubles, a triple and six runs scored in his first 10 games, Upton was drawing raves throughout the majors.
"We haven't had anybody like LeBron James in baseball," says Brewers general manager Doug Melvin. "Maybe Upton is the guy. He's very young and talented. He could be the next star-quality player in the big leagues."
The 6'3", 180-pound Upton is a five-tool talent with tremendous speed and good discipline at the plate. His 73 walks in the minors last year were the most by any player in the Tampa organization. In 69 games at Durham before being called up, he hit .311 with 12 homers, 36 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. Despite his age, the Devil Rays don't expect Upton to be overwhelmed in the majors. "What impressed me the most during spring training was the fact that he thought he belonged," says manager Lou Piniella. "That's always a good indicator. He looked comfortable out there."
Upton grew up idolizing Jeter--at Greenbrier, he wore the Yankee's uniform number 2--and has been on the fast track to the majors since Tampa Bay gave him a $4.6 million signing bonus after the draft. (An all-around outstanding athlete, Upton was a quarterback in high school and was recruited by Georgia and Tennessee to play football.)
Upton, 22-year-old centerfielder Rocco Baldelli and 23-year-old leftfielder Carl Crawford give the Devil Rays, who were 54--64 at week's end and on pace to break the franchise record for wins in a season (69), a promising young nucleus. What's more, another phenom could be on the way: 18-year-old rightfielder Delmon Young, the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft, was hitting a team-high .308, with 99 RBIs and a .518 slugging percentage for Class A Charleston.
To be sure, Upton is still a raw talent--he committed three errors in his first 10 games with Tampa Bay--but Piniella and his staff are being patient. "All we have to do," says Piniella, "is let him get some work with [third base coach] Tom Foley, an excellent infield instructor; get his name in the lineup; and get out of the way and watch him play."
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At 19, Upton looks like the majors' version of LeBron.