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All American Game : : Story

Published: Thursday, September 29, 2011

Former All-American Justin Upton played an integral role in the Arizona Diamondbacks turnaround season in which they claimed the National League West division title after finishing with the third-worse record in all of Major League Baseball a year ago.  The first overall pick from the 2005 draft, he was also the first-ever recipient of the Jackie Robinson Award in 2004, handed out as part of the Classic's annual dinner banquet.

Upton, who recently turned 24 years old, set career marks in nearly every notable offensive category, including doubles (39), home runs (31) RBI (88) and stolen bases (21). Other than stolen bases, of which he trailed teammate Chris Young only by one, Upton led the Diamondbacks in all of those categories during the regular season serving as the team's three-hole hitter.

He also made the All-Star team as a reserve for the second time during his young career, playing in front of his hometown crowd at Chase Field.

Other notable playoff participants that have previously played in the All-American Classic include Detroit Tigers teammates Austin Jackson and Rick Porcello.

Jackson, who joined Upton as an All-American in 2004, was part of the blockbuster three-team trade in December of 2009 that sent this year's American League MVP candidate, Curtis Granderson, to the Yankees. That move allowed Jackson to become the Tigers' everyday centerfielder, and he made the most of his new opportunity by finishing second in the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year balloting. In his second full season this past year, he continued to show an exciting blend of power and speed, leading the league in triples with 11 while also hitting 10 home runs and stealing 22 bases.

Porcello displayed one of the most electric arms at the 2006 Classic, and was one of four Tigers pitchers that started at least 31 games this season, finishing the year with a 14-9 record and a 4.75 ERA. Similar to Upton's rapid progression to the big leagues, Porcello didn't need much time in the minors prior to making his MLB debut as a 20-year old in 2009.

Another member of the Detroit Tigers, Jacob Tuner, was named the starting pitcher for the West in the 2008 All-American Classic.  It remains to be seen whether or not he will be added to the Tigers' playoff roster after making three starts as a rookie this past season.

The same is true for New York Yankees outfielder Greg Golson and right-handed pitcher Dellin Betances.

Golson played in the Classic's inaugural event in 2003, and appeared in nine games at the MLB level this past year, spending most of the season at the Yankees AAA affiliate in the minor leagues.

Betances made his first big-league start on the last day of the regular season after making his MLB debut the week before.  Betances also spent the majority of the season at the AAA level, and participated in the 2005 All-American Classic.

The Tampa Bay Rays won their last five games of the regular season, and took six of seven games from the Red Sox in the month of September to surge into the postseason. That late season push was aided by Jeremy Hellickson's impressive first full season. The 24-year old right-handed pitcher went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA across 29 starts after playing in the 2004 Classic.

Two young Braves sluggers and former All-Americans, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, just missed the playoffs after the Braves lost on the last day of the regular season, losing the National League Wild Card berth to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Heyward endured a sophomore slump after finishing second in the National League in Rookie of the Year balloting in 2010 (doing so to another former All-American, Buster Posey). Freeman picked up where Heyward left off a year ago, putting up numbers (.283-21-76) worthy of NL ROY consideration this year. Both players participated in the Classic in 2006.

 
 
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