Sports

January 25, 2013

Arizona sends Upton to Braves in 7-player deal

Editor's note: Part of this story was inadvertently left out of today's newspaper.

PHOENIX — Justin Upton is having a family reunion in Atlanta.

Arizona traded its star right fielder to the Braves on Thursday in a seven-player deal that sent former All-Star infielder Martin Prado to the Diamondbacks.

For the first time since he was a high school freshman, Upton will have older brother B.J. Upton as a teammate.

The brothers combine with Jason Heyward, who won a Gold Glove in 2012, in an outfield potentially packed with power and speed.

“If we push ourselves to the next level, I feel with the extra push from each other there’s no question we can be the best outfield in baseball,” Justin Upton said in a telephone interview. “I’m not going to give us that label until we prove it.”

The Braves, who also get third baseman Chris Johnson, are giving up one of their top pitching prospects, Randall Delgado, and three minor leaguers in the deal.

They are right-hander Zeke Spruill, shortstop Nick Ahmed and first baseman Brandon Drury.

Prado, projected to play third base for the Diamondbacks, can become a free agent after this season, but Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said he already was working with Prado’s agent on a long-term deal.

B.J. Upton, 28, signed a five-year, $75.25 million contract with Atlanta in November.

Justin Upton, who has five full seasons in the majors but is just 25, said he already got tips from his brother from afar. Now there will be more chances for the two to help each other.

“I think from that standpoint it will be good, but I think more than anything being able to show up at the ballpark genuinely excited every day and have that energy,” he said. “The more energy you can bring from the start every day, it makes you a better player.”

Braves general manager Frank Wren said he expects the brothers will push each other.

“I do think it will drive them,” Wren said. “We’ve been looking for that young dynamic, right-handed, power-hitting outfielder that can hit in the middle of the lineup and makes that other team think a little bit.”

The younger Upton, who has three years and $38.5 million left on his contract, had been the subject of trade speculation throughout the offseason and vetoed a trade to the Seattle Mariners.

Upton had his ups and downs in Arizona, and Towers believes the change of scenery will benefit the young player, who was just 19 when he came to the majors.

“The expectations were through the roof on him,” Towers said. “When the team struggled, it seemed like it was always because of Justin. That’s hard. We’re human beings. It’s hard to take when you’re a young individual trying to establish yourself.”

Now, Towers said, Upton has “an opportunity to go to a different place to where he’s going to fit in with some star players over there, where he’s just kind of a piece of the puzzle versus kind of the centerpiece and the big piece of the puzzle.

“I think some pressure will be off of him.”

Arizona manager Kurt Gibson, his left arm in a sling after shoulder surgery, said he sent Upton a long text wishing him the best.

“I said, ‘You must be ecstatic to be able to play with your brother.’ I could certainly understand that. It’s got to be a great thrill for him.”

Gibson said Upton reminded him of himself as a player.

“I had some things that happened with my manager Sparky Anderson over the years where maybe we butted heads a little bit and I didn’t agree with him,” Gibson said, “but when it was all said and done it all made sense and it was for me to become a better person and a better ballplayer. I would say similar things have happened with me and Justin throughout our association. I know he respects me and I respect him.”

Prado, who joins fellow Venezuelan Miguel Montero in Arizona, made the All-Star team in 2010 as a second baseman and played mostly in left field last season. Prado was projected to move to third base for the Braves this season to replace the retired Chipper Jones.  

Arizona had accumulated a glut of outfielders, signing Cody Ross as a free agent last month. Upton, an All-Star pick in 2009 and 2011, was the most marketable.

Upton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, has played five full major league seasons. Last season, he hit .280 with 17 home runs and 67 RBIs and a career-high 107 runs.

In 2011, while helping Arizona win the NL West, Upton hit .289 with career-best totals of 31 home runs and 88 RBIs and finished fourth in NL MVP voting. Overall, he’s a career .278 hitter with 108 home runs, 739 hits, 147 doubles and 80 stolen bases.

Upton said he hopes to become a more consistent player in Atlanta.

“I’ve had a couple good years where I put up good numbers and my goal all along has been to put those years up consistently,” he said. “I think now I’m in a position with Atlanta ... we can really feed off each other throughout that lineup to try to get everybody to that consistent production rate.”

Delgado, a 23-year-old right-hander, had been expected to challenge for a spot in the Braves rotation. His acquisition bolsters the young pitching depth in Arizona depleted by the trade of Trevor Bauer. Delgado was 4-9 with a 4.37 ERA in 18 appearances, 17 as a starter, for the Braves. Rated Atlanta’s No. 3 prospect by Baseball America the past two years, he was 4-3 with a 4.06 ERA with Triple-A Gwinnett last season.

The trade leaves Arizona with three veteran outfielders  — Ross, Jason Kubel and Gerardo Parra — along with two youngsters the team feels are ready for the majors — Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock.  Towers projects Eaton as a center fielder and a prototypical leadoff hitter.

Towers said the addition of Ross and a top contact hitter in Prado changes the character of the club.

“I would say we’re going to be a little different club,” he said. “I think we can still hit home runs, but I think the last couple of years we’ve relied too much on the long ball. If you look at our record, those days that we didn’t homer, we usually didn’t win.”

———

AP sports writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.

———  

Follow Bob Baum at www.twitter.com/Thebaumerphx

 

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