It may not be very long before the D-backs have their own fence-busting combination of power hitters in the middle of the lineup. Watch out for Justin Upton and Paul Goldschmidt. The two D-backs sluggers should bring plenty of thrills to the desert for years to come. The baseball world got its first glimpse of Upton/Goldschmidt last season from August through the National League Division Series. The best is yet to come.
Upton has shown improvement every year. His lightning-quick bat, strength, consistent development hitting breaking pitches, speed, improving defense and overall athletic ability have propelled Upton to a spot among the elite players in the game. And he's only just begun to realize his potential. Believe it or not, upside remains in every phase of his game.
The No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft by Arizona, Upton won a National League Silver Slugger Award last season after hitting 31 home runs.
Upton, 24, has just scratched the surface of his abilities. A legitimate five-tool player, his patience and improved pitch recognition may be the greatest development from his first few years on the Major League stage. Frankly, too much was expected from him too soon. He placed tremendous pressure on himself as those around him showered his arrival with accolades usually reserved for more seasoned players. He was young, inexperienced and his tools were very raw when he began playing for Arizona at age 19.
Few hitters have the ability to drive the ball with the power and explosive force of Upton. His line-drive shots leave the ballpark in an instant. His towering homers are majestic in both length and height. Last season, Upton began to take pitches to all parts of the field, a skill that could elevate his game to even greater heights.
Pitchers try to jam Upton with inside fastballs at various eye levels. He has to adjust to that and learn how to punish those pitches. In addition, sliders down and away still cause him trouble. It's all a matter of making adjustments and concentrating on pitch recognition and patience. If a pitcher makes a mistake, Upton has the ability to deliver swift and consequential punishment. Strong hands and forearms and a solid lower body help generate immense torque in his swing.
Like Upton, Goldschmidt has top-of-the-scouting-chart power.
It's scary to think that at 24 years old, Goldschmidt may still grow beyond his current 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame. Goldschmidt presents an imposing figure in the right-handed batter's box.
The D-backs selected Goldschmidt in the eighth round in 2009. Previously selected in the 49th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers while in high school in Texas, Goldschmidt elected to attend college at Texas State University, where he really began to show his power potential. He has been an eye-popping home run hitter at every stop on his way to the big leagues.
Goldschmidt wasn't yet a household name when he hit with enormous power at Visalia in the Class A California League. He was named the league's Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in 2010.
Goldschmidt's showing in California earned him an invitation to Spring Training last year. He followed his impressive camp with an assignment to Double-A Mobile to begin the 2011 season.
Goldschmidt proved his damaging power was not a fluke. He excelled at Mobile, hitting 30 home runs with 94 RBIs and a .306 batting average in 366 at-bats in the relatively challenging Southern League.
The D-backs had seen enough. Concerned with a lack of productivity at first base, Goldschmidt was summoned to the Major League club on Aug. 1.
Goldschmidt's Major League career began when he faced San Francisco's Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum on consecutive nights. In his first at-bat, Goldschmidt singled off Cain. He homered off Lincecum the following evening.
More eyes were opened. Fans began to see rocket shots booming off his bat. It seemed as if Paul Bunyan had appeared in person at Chase Field.
There were a few times among his 177 plate appearances with the D-backs when Goldschmidt was fooled at the plate. He had stretches of poor contact and a few too many strikeouts. However, as he became more familiar with the environment, Goldschmidt's patience and plate discipline improved.
Known by scouts to have a long-ish swing during his college and early Minor League days, Goldschmidt has worked hard to shorten his swing and take a very direct path to the ball. While his bat speed doesn't compare to Upton's, he does get his hands through the ball quickly enough to generate power. Like many sluggers, he may be vulnerable to high-velocity inside pitches. But Goldschmidt has shown an ability to adjust. If anything, like many big power hitters, he may be prone to some inconsistency and slumps as he gains experience.
In his brief opportunity with Arizona last season, Goldschmidt showed he could quickly recognize breaking pitches. He was able to lay off the worst of the lot, but at times he was fooled and chased pitches out of the zone.
Surprisingly, Goldschmidt has the ability to steal bases with a good first step and solid running instincts. He shows much more agility and flexibility for his size than one might expect. Goldschmidt has displayed average hands, good footwork and a solid glove while playing defense. But it's his booming bat that should bring him stardom.
In his brief time with Arizona last season, Goldschmidt hit .250 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs. Few will forget his grand slam in Game 3 of the NL Division Series against the Brewers at Chase Field.
Goldschmidt is poised to join NL players like Upton, Joey Votto and Ryan Howard as elite, power-hitting first basemen who can change the outcome of a game with one swing of the bat. It's just a matter of time before Upton and Goldschmidt take their place among the best slugging tandems in baseball. Their power should be on display this coming season.