B. J. “Don’t call me Melvin” Upton is a big story for the Rays this Spring and the Worldwide Leader is starting to pick up on it. Papa Joe Maddon is giving Upton a shot to make the team as a “super-utility” player. He would not have a regular position, but he could see 400+ at bats at a number of different positions, including shortstop, second, third and any of the outfield positions. The hope is that Upton can take pressure off of himself to perform defensively and allow him to concentrate on rediscovering his offensive prowess that had him in the major leagues at the ripe age of 19. “Super-utility” players have become an important part of baseball and Maddon is modelling Upton after one of his former players, Chone Figgins. Figgins has flourished offensively without a regular position in the Angels lineup.

Still, many have wondered aloud if this is a prudent move with a young talent like Upton. Some feel the move will actually slow his progress defensively without an opportunity to work everyday at one position. Both Rob Neyer and Jayson Stark took up the debate about Upton yesterday. Neyer’s article can be found HERE, but is part of ESPN Insider. You can find Jayson starks article HERE.

Stark starts his article with the question, Who didn’t think B.J. Upton would be a star by now? The first part of the article is a recap of how Bossman Junior went from can’t miss prospect to trying to make the team as a utility player. Stark does a good job reminding us that Upton is still only 22 years old. It easy to think that he is much older, considering he made his major league debut in 2004.

Stark also touches on Joe Maddon’s decision to give Upton a Chone Figgins-like role with the 2007 Rays.

Great idea. But what no one knows — yet — is whether this is the right way to get him to that place. After all, if a guy’s biggest problem is his defense, is it going to make things better or worse to toss him into a constantly spinning defensive Cuisinart?

Rob Neyer is a little less understanding in his piece, arguing that the Rays and Maddon should have Upton in the outfield and the outfield only. His first piece of evidence to point out all the hall of fame outfielders that started as shortstops, including Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Larry Doby.

Apparently if you move a poor defensive shortstop to the outfield, they become hall of famers. Then again, in those days shortstop was not a power position. Those three players were all hall of famers, and very likely would have still been hall of famers had they stayed at shortstop. The hall of fame is riddled with great offensive forces that played the field like the ball was a hand grenade.

Neyer then blasts the Rays organization for the way they have handled Upton and the way they continue to handle him.

He’s been a professional baseball player for four full seasons, and he’s been an infielder during all of those seasons. At least one of those seasons was absolutely wasted, and it looks like the Devil Rays are about to waste another.

We actually have no idea what he means by a wasted season. Was Derek Jeter’s 1993 season at Greensboro wasted because he committed 56 errors? What about his last season at AAA when he committed 29 errors in 123 games? Apparently the Yankees should have made him an outfielder because now Jeter has no shot at making the hall of fame.

He even refers to Joe Maddon as an “otherwise bright fellow”, and blasts the organization for not trading Rocco Baldelli to make room for Upton in center field.

It is wrong. It’s time to get his career started. If the Devil Rays won’t or can’t put him in the outfield where he belongs, they should trade him to somebody who will. This has nothing to do with imagination. It’s nothing but doing the obviously smart thing. The right thing.

Now we don’t know what the right move is with Upton. We are as frustrated as any Rays fan, but we trust that Papa Joe and Co. are smarter baseball people than we are. Ultimately the success of this move is not up to Joe Maddon or Rob Neyer. It is up to BJ Upton, and Upton alone.

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5 Comments

  1. Jacob says:

    For those who can access ESPN on their phone, like me, you can read Neyer's entire article through your phone.

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  2. The Professor says:

    Jacob,

    I hope you are not one of the 6 people that bought a ESPN mobile phone.

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  3. Nick Christie says:

    Having watched B.J Upton in Durham for two years now, the simple fact is he cannot play SS or 3B. I never saw Derek Jeter play SS in minors, but Upton has two huge problems that have not gone away.

    1) His footwork instincts are simply not good enough. Anybody else see the Baseball Tonight "Webgem" of Upton at 3B last September? He threw out a guy with his butt on the ground. What no one seemed to notice or comment on was that on a routine chopper to 3B Upton got dear-in-the-headlights paralysis and simply backhanded the ball falling down. He literally handcuffed himself, staring at the ball while immoblized in one spot.

    2) His throws across the Diamond routinely sail several feet high. Admittedly, this is part of the footwork problem. When he's not set properly, which is too often, Upton makes way too many rifled throws 5 feet off mark, either high or outside.

    So, Upton's either an outfielder, probably CF because he is ungodly fast, or maybe he can play 2B. Apparently he's looked good in spring thus far.

    Anyway, I hope the Rays stop putting him on the left side of the IF. That will aid his progress immensely.

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