By Todd Johnson
On Saturday the 21st, I arrived in Wisconsin to watch the South Bend Cubs take on the Beloit Snappers. I got there early enough to watch batting practice and drills. One of the players I was most interested in learning more about was 2017 draft pick infielder Austin Upshaw. In talking with South Bend broadcaster Darin Pritchett, two words kept repeating about Upshaw’s skills – very good.
Hitting– very good. Fielding – very good. Throwing – very good. Make up – very good. Work ethic– very good. You get the idea.
The effusion Pritchett had for Upshaw was easily seen as Darin lit up talking about young infielder the Cubs drafted this summer from Kennesaw State.
Strengths – smooth left handed hitting stroke, can play multiple positions in the infield, makeup, hits to all fields
Tomorrow, Upshaw will turn 21 years old. He’s pretty young for a recent draft pick but I think that bodes well for his future. Originally from Georgia, the young infielder first attended Georgia Perimeter College before transferring to Kennesaw State as a sophomore. His first season at Kennesaw State saw him hit .344 with 7 HRs and 39 RBIs. As a junior, he hit .333 with 8 HRs and 41 RBI. Along the way he earned several accolades including First Team Atlantic Sun All-Conference his junior year.
The Cubs drafted Upshaw in the 13th round of this year’s draft. He went to Mesa for a few games (where he hit 2 HRs in one game) before skipping short season Eugene. He was assigned to South Bend in early July. In the first few games that I saw him play, I came away impressed with the effortlessness of his swing. It’s not Mark Grace-like, but it’s still something pretty to watch. He sprays the ball all over the field. So far, he has pulled 38.2% of batted balls, 26.5% have gone to center, and 35.3% have gone to left. That’s a pretty good spread.
Here is a video I took of him batting in the game. You can see the effortlessness and how his bat glides through the hitting zone even in a strikeout.
I had a brief chance to talk with Upshaw about his routine and how it differed from what he did in college. Here is what he had to say
“There’s a big difference considering school. Sometimes you had to wake up at 7:20 for weights in the morning. Then you had to go to school to practice. But pro ball I can sleep until 11 and still be OK. I kinda had a routine in college, eating wise, getting ready for the game. Things change over time, but I kept the core routine and I am continuing the same thing that I did in college.”
So far in 18 games, Upshaw is hitting .321 with one home run in 13 RBI. I think he’s one of the better young hitters the Cubs have drafted in the past couple of years.
“Sometimes you’re looking for something you can drive early in the count – maybe a fastball in the middle of the plate,but it just depends on what the pitcher has been doing to other batters or just what you’ve seen throughout the game like his tendencies. The coaches do a good job of giving us scouting reports. We usually try to stick to that and use that to have a better plan at the plate.”
I really think that he is going to be someone to watch over the next year. There are only just a few weeks left of this season, along with fall instructs, and it is clear in watching him play that he comes across as a baseball rat. He looks like a kid who just eats, lives, and breathes baseball. Those are good kinds of players to have.