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
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
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.