J. Upton eager to measure up to deal

TUCSON, Ariz. — Justin Upton has lived with high expectations virtually since the day he picked up a bat.

Now, at 22, with two full major-league seasons behind him, he says he welcomes the challenge of living up to the $51.25 million, six-year contract he signed Wednesday with the Diamondbacks, the second-largest deal in franchise history.

With his parents, Manny and Yvonne, looking on proudly at a news conference, the outfielder and younger brother of Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton said he understands the responsibility that comes with such a big contract at such a young age.

"I do kind of put that pressure on myself," he said. "I want to be great, that's the thing. If you want to be great, then you set your goals higher."

Upton earned his first All-Star berth last season, when he hit .300 with a .366 on-base percentage and a .532 slugging percentage in 138 games. He also stole 20 bases in 25 opportunities.

His statistics are compared favorably with those of some of the game's greats at the same age. His OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .836 compares with the early numbers of Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.

"There's a lot to live up to," he said, "and I think I'm ready for that."

Upton gets a $1.25 million signing bonus, half on April 15 and the rest on July 15. He receives salaries of $500,000 this year, $4.25 million in 2011, $6.75 million in 2012, $9.75 million in 2013, $14.25 million in 2014 and $14.5 million in 2015.

"We view him as a core player, one of our key pieces," general manager Josh Byrnes said, "and, as we view the next six years, the kind of guy we want to build around."

The only bigger contract in Diamondbacks history was the $52.4 million, four-year deal Randy Johnson signed in 1999.

"This is something you dream about. For it to come true, it really hasn't sunk in yet," Upton said.

"My parents have definitely been a special part of my life to get me to this point. It's definitely a special day. I'm glad they could be here. I know they're as happy as I am."

ASTROS: All-Star first baseman Lance Berkman will sit out today's spring training opener against the Nationals because of a bruised left knee.

BRAVES: Rookie outfielder Jason Heyward had a double in the sixth inning against the Mets that manager Bobby Cox said was one of the hardest-hit balls he has seen. Cox said Heyward is certainly going to see time in rightfield.

CUBS: Cuban defector Juan Yasser Serrano, a right-handed pitcher, agreed to terms. Serrano, 21, must pass a physical.

RANGERS: Rightfielder Josh Hamilton, a former Rays prospect, probably won't return to the field until next week because of a bruised left shoulder.

REDS: Right-hander Aaron Harang was named opening day starter by manager Dusty Baker for a team-record-tying fifth straight season.

TIGERS: Right-hander Jeremy Bonderman pitched two shutout innings after missing most of last season with circulatory problems in his right shoulder in a 7-6 victory over the Blue Jays. Bonderman allowed one hit and struck out three, including Adam Lind and Vernon Wells after putting Toronto's first two runners on.

J. Upton eager to measure up to deal 03/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 11:03pm]

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