Justin Upton’s Future

Yesterday, in the post about the players who have had comparable seasons to Matt Wieters Double-A performance last year, one commenter brought up Justin Upton, who didn’t have a chance to have a comparable performance because he got himself to the majors as a 19-year-old. And, since I angered a lot of D’Backs fans the other day, I figured I’d make it up to you by presenting the list of MLB players who have made it to the majors (and got at least 100 AB) at age 20 or younger since 1980, and how their MLB careers ended up shaking out.

Here’s the list of players.

Roberto Alomar – Hall Of Famer
Adrian Beltre – All-Star
Miguel Cabrera All-Star/Maybe HOF
Luis Castillo – All-Star
Wil Cordero – Useful Role Player
Carl Crawford – All-Star
Ken Griffey Jr. – Hall of Famer
Gregg Jeffries – All-Star
Andruw Jones – All-Star
Jose Lopez – Useful Role Player
Lloyd Moseby – Useful Role Player
Jose Oquendo – Useful Role Player
Aramis Ramirez – All-Star
Edgar Renteria – All-Star
Jose Reyes – All-Star
Alex Rodriguez – Hall Of Famer
Gary Sheffield – All-Star/Maybe HOF
Ruben Sierra – Useful Role Player
B.J. Upton – All-Star
Justin Upton – ?

That’s a ridiculous list of talent. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise, though – there’s perhaps no better proxy for talent level than ability to rise through the minors rapidly. If major league teams can become convinced of a player’s ability before his 21st birthday, he’s probably going to have a career somewhere between All-Star and Hall Of Famer.

That’s especially true if you display power at a young age and can still get to the majors quickly. Guys like Luis Castillo, Edgar Renteria, and Jose Reyes aren’t very good comparisons for what Justin Upton will likely become – instead, his comparables are more in the Beltre/Sheffield/Cabrera/Sierra/Ramirez range. When Ruben Sierra is your downside, and Gary Sheffield is your upside, you’re a pretty fantastic young player.

Don’t let his struggles in the second half deter you from realizing that Justin Upton is one of the premier talents in all of baseball. The odds are very good that he’s going to be a superstar.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Jacob Jackson
15 years ago

Great post and list, Dave.

Another thing that’s fascinating about Upton is the fact that, at this point, he projects to reach free agency at a remarkably young age – 26.

I think that would make him the youngest position-player free agent since A-Rod became one at age 25.

It’s very rare for a player to enter free agency before he’s even reached the start of his theoretical peak. That’s part of why I anticipate Upton becoming the second player in history to earn a $200M contract.

Mike K
15 years ago
Reply to  Jacob Jackson

Adrian Beltre was a FA at the age of 25.

Matt Harms
15 years ago
Reply to  Jacob Jackson

Pujols will get $200M long before Upton reaches FA.

Jacob Jackson
15 years ago
Reply to  Matt Harms

He might. He’ll be 32 during the 2012 season though. He’d have to get a 7-year contract to get $200M.