Prospect highlight: Upton and Jones called up

Just two days after the trade deadline, two of the most hyped prospects in baseball have gotten the call from their respective teams. Adam Jones and Justin Upton are in the bigs and are quite likely to stay. What kind of impact does each figure to have, though? That’s what I’ll be trying to figure out today.

Adam Jones

Was thought to be called up a few weeks back, but it turned out to be a false alarm. Now, it is the real deal. The first thing we need to do is look at his minor league numbers.

YEAR AGE LEVEL AB CR BB LD BABIP HR AB/HR OF FB HR/FB 2B 3B AB/(2B+3B) AB/XBH SB CS SB%
2005 19 A+ 272 80% 9% 12% .348 8 34 34% 11% 20 5 11 8 4 5 44%
2005 19 AA 228 81% 9% 19% .339 7 32 28% 14% 10 3 18 11 9 4 69%
2006 20 AAA 376 82% 7% 18% .308 16 24 31% 17% 19 4 16 10 13 4 76%
2007 21 AAA 409 75% 8% 24% .342 24 17 30% 26% 26 6 13 7 8 7 53%

As you can see, his power has been going up at each stop, culminating in a spectacular 26% HR/FB rate in Triple-A this year. He doesn’t hit an enormous number of outfield fly balls (major league average is roughly 32%), but most of his fantasy value will probably come from his power. As I say every time, it is extremely difficult to predict how minor league power will translate into major league power, but Jones has as good a chance as any to make it work. He could be good for 10 home runs over the next two months with regular playing time.

His batting average doesn’t look as promising. A contact rate in the low 80s is decent, but it dropped to 75% in Triple-A this year. He can’t afford for it to go much lower in the majors. If it settles in around 72% and his walk rate around 5-6%, his average won’t be very pretty. His line drives will help a bit, but he might only be able to hit .255-ish with those numbers. Of course, there is upside —an average closer to .275 this year, especially considering his nice BABIPs—but the lower end seems a little more likely.

He has shown that he likes to run a little bit, although his success hasn’t always been great. This might not bother the M’s too much, though, as the team success rate is just 65%. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last I read, a player (or team) needs to be successful at least 70% of the time to impact an offense positively. It doesn’t seem like the Mariners realize this, so they could let Jones run even if he gets caught occasionally and even if it costs them some runs. Luckily, most fantasy leagues don’t discount value for being caught stealing.

The potential problem with his steals is that the Mariners are only 19th in baseball in attempts. Of course, they don’t have many fast guys. Besides Ichiro Suzuki, the only Mariner with 10 or more stolen base attempts is Adrian Beltre, who has 10. It’s difficult to say how the Mariners feel about Jones stealing, but he’ll probably be seen as their second most dangerous threat on the bases, meaning he could be given some opportunities. I don’t think he’ll get to 10 steals, but he is a good bet to get more than five.

What about playing time? The Mariners outfield consists of Raul Ibanez, Ichiro, and Jose Guillen, with the DH spot filled by Jose Vidro. Ichiro won’t lose time, but when Jones plays, he’ll be taking the spot of one of the other three, rotating in and out. Because he’s likely better than Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez, I think—when he plays—he’ll be slotted in the top six or seven in the order, giving him some decent RBI opportunities.

How much will he play? Manager John McLaren, when asked about it, said, “I would prefer not to talk about Adam’s role at this time.” I don’t think they’ve recalled him to bench him, so he might see four or five starts a week.

Justin Upton

As you’ve probably heard, Upton won’t turn 20 until the end of the month. Despite this, he is primed to take a full-time gig with the Diamondbacks’ big league club. Having had only 242 at-bats in Double-A, is he really ready for the show? Let’s check out his minor league numbers.

YEAR AGE LEVEL AB CR BB LD BABIP HR AB/HR OF FB HR/FB 2B 3B AB/(2B+3B) AB/XBH SB CS SB%
2006 18 A 438 81% 10% 13% .296 12 37 33% 10% 28 1 15 11 15 7 68%
2007 19 A+ 130 78% 13% 17% .402 5 26 35% 14% 6 2 16 10 9 4 69%
2007 19 AA 242 81% 13% 16% .313 12 20 34% 17% 17 4 12 7 10 7 59%

Upton has shown very nice power development, going up at each level—across the board—in AB/HR, HR/FB, AB/(2B+3B), and AB/XBH. His fly ball rate has stayed consistently at a good level. While it is developing nicely, I’m not quite sure it is good enough for the big time yet. He might be capable of hitting 12 homers over the next two months, but I think half of that is more likely. As long as he is handled properly (which he might be with this jump), he could become a legitimate power threat in the future.

Upton’s batting average—like Jones’—isn’t quite as nice. His BABIPs have not been very good. It was a fantastic .402 in Single-A+, but we are looking at a fairly small sample size there. In Double-A, it was only .313. His line drive rates were also pretty low. This leads me to believe he might struggle hitting big league hurlers. Upton’s walk rates are very nice and his contact rates are okay, but I don’t see Upton putting up a great batting average this year. With a 76% contact and 7-8% walk rate, he might be able to hit .260-.265, but if his BABIP ends up being low he’ll have trouble getting over .250.

The Diamondbacks are fifth in stolen base percentage and 21st in stolen base attempts, so they are pretty selective with their runners. Upton has attempted 30 steals so far this year, but was successful only 63% of the time. We’ll have to see if the Diamondbacks let him try, but the only guys they’ve really let run so far are Eric Byrnes and Chris Young. Of course, they have both been fantastic, so maybe Upton will be able to do this same. It doesn’t seem incredibly likely though. Young stole at a 77% clip in Triple-A last year, so he could reasonably be expected to succeed in the majors. Upton should grab a handful of steals, but I don’t see him as the 20-steal guy that many people do. Not yet, anyway.

Unlike Jones, Upton has the luxury of a full-time job. With Carlos Quentin potentially out for the year, Upton should have right field all to himself, at least for a while. It seems unlikely the D’Backs would call him up and start his options clock if they knew Quentin would be back in a couple of weeks. Without much pop behind Young, Orlando Hudson, Byrnes, and Conor Jackson, Upton could find himself hitting as high as No. 5, although a spot around sixth or seventh might be more realistic. If he could secure the No. 5 spot, he would have plenty of RBI opportunities.

Concluding thoughs

So, you may be asking, which of these guys is a better pickup? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for. Neither should be counted on as a savior for your team, but in deeper leagues, they could contribute nicely.

Jones probably will show more raw power, but the AL and Safeco might depress his totals a bit. Upton, conversely, probably will show less raw power, but has the NL and Chase Field to fall back on. When you combine this with his—potentially—better batting average, better spot in the order, and better likelihood for playing time, Upton looks like the better bet. Because his highest level is Double-A, though, and he had only a little over 200 at-bats there, failure is also more likely.

Either way, be careful. Both have very good potential, but minor leaguers are the toughest to predict and are always a candidate for failure in their first stint in the bigs. Granted, Jones took 74 at-bats in Seattle last year, but they were just that…74 at-bats. Not enough to really judge him on.

Jones can be owned in 12 and 14-team AL-only leagues. Upton can be owned in deep mixed and 12 and 14-team NL-only leagues.

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