Baseball America rates B.J. Upton one of the nation's top position players, and he's not too bad on the mound, either. (Courtesy Andy Riddick)
PROFILE: B.J. UPTON
Body now similar to Alfonso Soriano. Build will eventually resemble Mike Cameron. Gap-to-gap, line-drive stroke. Ball jumps. Plus runner, especially from 1B to 3B. Soft hands. Above-average arm, more when needed. True shortstop tools and ability. Defensive skills to play center field. Has range and covers gaps with ease, similar to Doug Glanville.
B.J. Upton threw a no-hitter for Greenbrier Christian High School recently, striking out 10 in a 12-0 victory that kept the Gators unbeaten in 14 games.
Ho-hum. Is there anything this Chesapeake, Va., phenom can't accomplish?
Time and the First-Year Player Draft on June 4-5 will help answer that question.
Upton signed a national letter of intent with Florida State, but joining Mike Martin's premier college baseball program could mean walking away from millions of dollars.
The Seminoles knew the risk in signing Upton, but couldn't afford not to make him an offer, said FSU recruiting coordinator and pitching coach Jamey Shouppe.
"We have several signees rated among the best in the country," he said. "B.J. is ranked the highest, so to actually have a player of his ability turn down the money he will be offered by professional baseball and attend college is a long shot."
The conductor of Monday's no-hitter is rated by Baseball America as one of the nation's top position players -- high school or college. There is even speculation he could be the first overall selection.
There hasn't been this much excitement in the Tidewater area since Chesapeake Great Bridge's Mike Cuddyer went No. 9 overall to Minnesota in 1997.
Baseball America listed Upton near the top of its high school prospects list, long before he laced up his spikes for the first time this season. High school statistics are nothing upon which to base a draft selection, but Upton's junior numbers were positively unworldly.
He hit .633 (57-for-90), with 13 home runs, 51 runs driven in, 44 runs scored and 43 stolen bases in 47 attempts. Baseball America selected Upton a second-team All-American.
After watching 96-mph fastballer Gavin Floyd, Philadelphia's top pick in 2001 and the fourth overall selection, one American League scouting director told Baseball America, "Everyone else was overmatched, but [Upton] showed the ability to make adjustments and didn't back down."
Another AL scouting chief labeled Upton "a premium athlete at a premium position. That's why he's been on everyone's radar for a while."
"He is the best shortstop in America," says Team One Baseball director Jeff Spelman.
Says Area Code Games director Bob Williams: "Defensively, there hasn't been a high school shortstop this good since Alex Rodriguez nearly 10 years ago."
Upton only enhanced his status after taking Greenbrier Christian to the Virginia championship, its eighth private school title in 10 seasons. He took a break from accepting showcase invitations that fill all his free time by playing for Team USA's Junior National club.
The Yanks went 9-2 in the 10-nation COPABE Pan American qualifying tournament last July in Cuba. Their silver-medal finish guaranteed a berth in the International Baseball Federation World Junior Championships in Sherbrooke, Quebec, this summer. Upton batted .480 with one homer, seven RBIs and three steals in 25 at-bats.
Upton is a rare shortstop, one who doesn't project to another position as a professional. So many young players at shortstop soon find themselves moved to other positions -- switched to third or first because of size (too big) or speed (too slow), or second base or center field because they lack range and arm strength. But already 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Upton personifies a slick-fielding shortstop with howitzer arm strength.
"I work on my defense, but not as much as my hitting," Upton said. "You don't go into a long slump fielding.
"Not being at shortstop is not being home," he said. "I just like the position a lot. I was an outfielder a long time ago. It was OK, but infield seems to be my spot right now."
Upton doesn't have to look far for advice. His father, Emanuel, a two-sport athlete at Norfolk State, is a college basketball referee, part-time Kansas City Royals scout and full-time influence on B.J.
Emanuel started criss-crossing the country, taking his son to showcases when B.J. was a ninth grader, just a little older than Justin, B.J.'s younger brother and also a shortstop.
"He's got to remember to keep working because somebody out there might be working harder than him," Emanuel said. "His biggest asset is his ability to get to balls up the middle, which is such a critical part of baseball. It's rare that teams get a Nomar [Garciaparra] or a [Derek] Jeter, a guy that's over six feet that can cover so much area.
"I think B.J.'s size will help him, but he can't stop working. It is his goal to be rated No. 1 in the country. It gives him motivation to work at it."
Gary Rausch covers the minors for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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