Authors Note: Although the regular season for the minor leagues is now over, please enjoy these profiles over the next few weeks to tide you over until the fall and winter leagues begin.
It seems as if almost from the start of the current front office’s tenure, the development of a multi-positional player was a high priority. In their first draft of 2012, David Bote was selected in the eighteenth round. Just completing the season at Double-A Tennessee, Bote set career highs in home runs and RBI while playing four positions. Throughout his minor league career, Bote has only to put on the tools behind the plate to play every position on the diamond.
Unless you want to include INF Ramsey Romano, who the team drafted and signed in 2017, the Cubs skipped the versatility role in 2013 but came up big for the 2014 draft. That year, the Cubs selected Chesny Young fourteenth, Jason Vosler sixteenth, and Andrew Ely in the thirty-second round. After moving around a bit early on, Vosler has settled in a third base while his teammate Ely saw action at four positions for the Smokies this season. Young has made his way to Triple-A Iowa, earned a batting title on his way, and played everywhere except pitcher and catcher.
But the bounty of 2104 didn’t stop the search as Vimael Machin was selected tenth in 2015; and the 2016 draft brought Zack Short at seventeen, Delvin Zinn selected twenty-third, and Trent Giambrone picked at twenty-five. With the exception of the 20 year old Zinn, who played in the rookie league, all ended up with Advanced-A Myrtle beach this season. In particular, Short has been a revelation as a lead-off hitter and appears to have a bright future. Giambrone has shown some ability in the clutch while Zinn remains a work in progress. International free agents Jhonny Bethencourt and Rafael Narea have moved all around the diamond for Short Season-A Eugene this year, while Andruw Monasterio has spread his time across second, short and third for Low-A South Bend.
Along with Romano in the thirty-first round and Cam Balego thirtieth of the 2017 draft, the trend has continued. However, the player making a big splash is thirteenth round choice Austin Upshaw.
The affable Upshaw stated that he was “ready to start when I signed” this June. “I went to Arizona for my physical and played the next day”. And what a debut it was! In his first professional action the 21 year old was 2-for-5, leaving the yard twice and driving in five runs. After a 3-for-5, three RBI performance two days later, it was clear that Upshaw needed more of a challenge. But a problem came up along the way. “I was supposed to go to (Short Season-A) Eugene” related Upshaw, “but I didn’t have a passport”. “While I was applying for a passport, an infield spot opened up in South Bend, so the Cubs sent me here.”
It is unusual for a mid-round selection to be bumped up two levels shortly after signing, but the left-handed hitter had himself ready for pro ball. “I was hitting and working out every day” said Upshaw, “so when I signed, I was ready to start”. The question at the time was where to play Upshaw? As a junior at Kennesaw State (GA), Upshaw had played mostly first base, with some third on occasion. At only 6-foot and 175-pounds, Upshaw did not fit the profile of your average first baseman. “I think baseball has my profile wrong” explained Upshaw. “I am listed as a shortstop, but I have not played there since high school.” “I’m also not 175 pounds.”
While Upshaw does look a little bit bigger than that in person, he still carries the frame of a middle infielder, which he now is playing. “I like playing second base” said Upshaw enthusiastically, “but I played first base in college, and will also get some time at third”. What hasn’t changed is Upshaw’s offense. In 210 at-bats in 52 games for Low-A South Bend, Upshaw worked a .290/.339/.381/.720 line with 11 doubles, a triple, two home runs, and 29 RBI.
Upshaw has also caught the eye of some close observers. “Upshaw reminds me a little of Chesny Young in the way he doesn’t ‘wow’ you, but remains consistent” stated SB-Cubs announcer Darin Pritchett. “Upshaw is a little different though in the velocity behind his line drives” add Pritchett. “In that way, I can see a little Chase Utley in Austin Upshaw.”
As for Upshaw, he stated that he was “looking to be a little more consistent with his swing, and continue to be in a good position to hit.” “I am also looking for better range of motion in the field”. The Fall Instructional League and spring training will finally determine where Upshaw will play next season, but do not be surprised by any other jumps in level in his further development.