Justin Upton Interview

August 3, 2007
The first member of the coveted 2005 first round high school outfield draft class to make it to the bigs – before Jay Bruce, Colby Rasmus, Cameron Maybin, and Andrew McCutchen – Justin Upton has every tool needed to be a superstar. And at 6-foot-3, 205-pounds he has the perfect frame to hit for power while maintaining the speed and athleticism to play anywhere in the outfield.

Upton struggled last season in the Midwest League (.263/.343/.413 with 12 HR), so it’s a pleasant surprise that he blazed through High-A (.341/.433/.540 with 5 HR in 126 ab), continued mashing in Double-A (.309/.399/.556 with 13 HR in 259 ab), and got his ticket to the big leagues yesterday. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 Draft, ranked No. 2 in our recent Top 25 Outfield Prospect list, and came in at No. 4 in our most recent Top 25 Rankings.

Patient – there was a line to talk to him in the Futures Game clubhouse and he talked to everyone – candid, and sincere, Upton told me about: what he’s doing to feel more comfortable at the plate, a flaw he had in his swing last year against lefties, and how he embraces the mental challenges that come with playing pro ball.

Adam Foster: What did you learn about yourself as a ballplayer last year?

Justin Upton: Just simple stuff like ways to take care of my body, what I needed to do to be in shape for a longer season because that was the first time I played long-season. So that and just little things about the game that I picked up during the season that I went home and fine-tuned, as far as keeping my swing consistent and outfield stuff. I did outfield work in the offseason and it seemed to help a little bit.

Foster: How have you felt at the plate this season versus last season?

Upton : I’ve got a better approach to the game...different pitches how to tell myself while I’m hitting or what approach to take against certain pitches. I just feel comfortable. It’s just kind of one of those things you pound into yourself and try to make it second nature.

Foster: Speaking of different approaches, you’re hitting lefties as well as you have during any point of your pro career right now. Have you spent a lot of time working on your approach against them?

Upton : Last year there was a flaw in my swing that caused me not to hit lefties. I was pulling off the ball and stuff like that. This year, I went home and I fixed it. This year, righties and lefties I feel comfortable against.

Foster: Were you at all surprised when you were brought up to Double-A in mid-May?

Upton : Yeah, I thought that they’d wait until the All-Star Break or afterwards, so it was surprising. But I thought I was ready.

Foster: Did you grow up idolizing any particular ball players?

Upton : I had a bunch of guys that I watched...Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter. Those were a couple that I did watch growing up.

Foster: Has your brother offered you any specific advice that has helped you become a better professional athlete?

Upton : Just watching him play, I picked up little things. But other than that, we don’t really like to talk about the game that much. When we talk on the phone, we talk about off-the-field stuff...“What’s going on?” “How you feeling?” But other than that, just growing up watching him I picked up a few things.

Foster: What has it been like for you adjusting to the mental challenges of playing full-season ball?

Upton : I like challenges. And any kind of tips that I can pick up, I pick them up and I go with them.

Foster: What’s your response to critics who point to the hitter-friendly environments you’ve played in this season when evaluating your success?

Upton : You know what, people’s opinions don’t bother me. I go out and I play hard and that’s just what I do. Whatever they have to say, they can say, and that’s cool. I can live with that.

Adam Foster can be reached at adamf@projectprospect.com.