Upton finally finds a home — and is producing

As the second player drafted in the 2002 draft, Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton entered the majors bagged with immense expectations.

Debuting in 2004 at 19 years old — making him the youngest Devil Ray ever to suit up — he was supposed to be a savior for the moribund franchise, but instead he struggled defensively at shortstop and third base. His offensive numbers, while showing signs of explosiveness, never earned him a permanent position on Tampa Bay’s roster.

His first two seasons in the majors (2004 and 2006 — he remained in the minors for 2005) yielded numbers that showed youthful inexperience at the plate (28 walks against 86 strikeouts), but his defensive numbers — 53 errors at shortstop while playing Triple-A ball in 2005 — were truly disconcerting.

For fantasy owners eyeing the vast potential of Upton, taking a risk on a player who may be demoted at anytime because of bad defensive habits made him a risky proposition, but 2007 has proven to be the season he has finally found a home in the field.

After moving from short to third and, in some cases, spot duty in the outfield for the Devil Rays, Upton has settled in nicely at second base this season. With his mind free of defensive distractions, he has opened up to become one of the best young hitters in the game.

Upton is 11th in the American League and first on the Devil Rays with a .325 average and his team-leading eight home runs and 28 RBIs project to solid full-season totals of 27 homers and 95 RBIs.

Upton still swings a little wildly (20 walks/59 strikeouts), but his power numbers — 21 extra-base hits, .550 slugging percentage — are above average for a second baseman, especially one just 22 years old.

In a position loaded with young talent (Chase Utley, Rickie Weeks, Dan Uggla), most fantasy experts rank Upton among the top five second basemen. But with the offensive tools he possesses and his newfound defensive stability, Upton could easily find himself at the top of that list in the immediate future.

WHO’S HOT?

» Jeremy Guthrie, SP, Orioles

» Roger Clemens, SP, Yankees

» Mark Reynolds, 3B, Diamondbacks

» Byung-Hyun Kim, SP, Marlins

» Josh Barfield, 2B, Indians

WHO’S NOT?

» Ryan Freel, OF, Reds

» Shawn Green, OF, Mets

» Orlando Hudson, 2B, Diamondbacks

» Jose Contreras, SP, White Sox

» Armando Benitez, RP, Giants


Where does Upton rank among second basemen?

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