Upton pick signals reverse in draft trend
High school ranks mark highest total in a decade
NEW YORK -- Justin Upton went first in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, and that was no surprise.
Upton was the considered to be the best player available, and his selection by the Arizona Diamondbacks marks the third consecutive year and sixth time in the last seven years that a high school player has gone in the top spot. The high schools grabbed some glory with Upton, which ultimately proved to be a precursor of what was to come as a 10-year trend was broken in regards to the drafting of prep stars.
There were 1501 players selected in the 50 rounds of the draft, which ended Wednesday evening, with 529 of them coming from the high school ranks. With 35.2 percent of the players chosen coming from the prep ranks, it represents a slight increase from the 33 percent that were drafted last year. It also represents the reversal of a trend that started in 1995. Over the previous 10 years, the percentage of high school players drafted had declined steadily, from 46.2 percent to last year's 33 percent.
And for a while on Wednesday, it looked as if that trend would continue. Through the 33rd round, high school players represented only 28 percent of players chosen. But in rounds 34 through 50, 40.2 percent of the final 561 players chosen were from high schools. Overall, there were 35 more prep players chosen than a year ago while, the overall number of players selected was the highest its been since 1607 players were drafted in 1997. Thirteen players drafted this year did not attend school.
The lowest percentage of high school players chosen was 25 percent in 1985, while the highest was 63.7 percent in 1969.
The percentages, however, seemed to be with Arizona when they grabbed the 17-year-old Upton, a star at Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, Va., and the younger brother of the 2002 second overall selection, B.J. Upton. The younger Upton was rated by most scouts and publications as the consensus best player available in this year's draft, and he was Arizona's target player all along, despite its need for pitching.
The Uptons become the highest-drafted brothers in history, edging out the Youngs, Dmitri and Delmon, who went fourth (1991) and first overall (2003) to the Cardinals and Devil Rays, respectively.
"It's a great feeling," Upton said. "It's an honor. I'm just glad to be part of the club, and hopefully I can make an impact on the organization."
Upton became the fifth shortstop taken with the No. 1 overall pick, joining Matt Bush (Padres '04), Alex Rodriguez (Mariners '93), Chipper Jones (Braves '90) and Shawon Dunston (Cubs '82). But Upton's selection was one of only 10 expended on a high school player in the first round. Picks No. 2 through No. 9 were used to select collegians. Wade Townsend, who went eighth to Tampa Bay after not playing in a year, represented a trend that became more and more evident as the later rounds wore on into Wednesday evening.
After negotiating with Stephen Drew, their first-round pick in 2004, for an entire year, the D-Backs figure to sign Upton and get him on the field as quickly as possible. Drew was represented by agent Scott Boras, who also represents collegians Mike Pelfrey, Luke Hochevar and Craig Hansen, pitchers Arizona had some interest in before settling on Upton. The D-Backs have indicated that dealing with Boras once again was not an issue when it came time to decide whom they would choose with the top pick.
Upton, like Drew and 2002 first-round pick Sergio Santos, is a shortstop, lending to the belief held by many that he is destined to find his mark in the Major Leagues as an outfielder or perhaps shift over to third base, though no decision has been made yet about those players' future. The D-Backs still have to sign Upton, who figures to ink a deal that could match the $5.5 million pact signed by Drew.
The A's and Phillies didn't waste any time signing their first selections, announcing they had reached terms with Cliff Pennington and Mike Costanzo, respectively. Oakland grabbed Pennington, a shortstop, with the 21st pick out of Texas A&M, while Costanzo, a third baseman, was the 65th selection out of Coastal Carolina.
"It runs in the blood being a Phillies fan and an Eagles fan and a Flyers fan," Costanzo said on Wednesday. "This is a dream come true. I'm ready to be a Phillie, and hopefully, I'll be at Citizens Bank Park in a few years."
The Cubs, at 20, took high school pitcher Mark Pawelek (Springville High, Utah) and immediately announced his signing on Tuesday. Pawelek is also a Boras client.
Other early first-round notables included Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon, who was taken second overall by the Royals, and University of Southern California catcher Jeff Clement, who went third to the Mariners. Washington stayed in its own backyard with the fourth pick, taking University of Virginia third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, while Milwaukee hopes to add to a Minor League system already stocked with some top-level prospects after choosing University of Miami third baseman Ryan Braun with the fifth pick.
"I'm thrilled," said Braun, who will play in this weekend's NCAA Super Regionals. "I obviously understand that there is a chance for me to advance through the system pretty quickly as a third baseman. I am just excited about the opportunity to work hard."
Many of the splashy names weren't called out on the second day of the draft as teams buzzed through rounds 19-50. There were some selections of note Wednesday, however. In the 22nd round, Kansas City grabbed Justin Bristow, a Mills Godwin High product expected by many to go by the third round. The Cardinals took University of Kansas' A.J. Van Slyke, son of former Gold Glover Andy Van Slyke, in the 23rd round. The move is significant because the Dodgers tabbed Van Slyke's brother, Scott, in Tuesday's 14th round.
The Cardinals chose Jesse Schoendienst, the great nephew of their Hall of Fame infielder and former manager Red Schoendienst, in the 40th round, while the Twins grabbed Toby Gardenhire, son of skipper Ron Gardenhire, in the 41st round. Seattle grabbed Andrew Hargrove, son of manager Mike Hargrove, in the 47th round while the White Sox grabbed John Wolff, the grandson of Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Wolff, in the 47th round.
And three members of the Dodger coaching staff -- Tim Wallach, John Shelby and John Debus -- had relatives drafted. Matt Wallach (son) went to the Yankees in the 23rd round, Jake Debus (nephew) went to the Dodgers in the 39th round, while Jeremy Shelby (son) went to the Padres in the 46th round.
Expecting Upton, Gordon or anyone else to jump right into the big leagues though is a long shot. Only 19 players have gone directly into the pros, the last outfielder Xavier Nady, whom the Padres grabbed with the 49th pick in the 2000 draft.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.