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Upton brothers join forces in Atlanta's outfield
Upton brothers join forces in Atlanta's outfield

Chesapeake's B.J. and Justin Upton always hoped to play on the same Major League Baseball team, their father Manny said Thursday. The brothers assumed, though, it might happen later in their careers, "when they were both going downhill."

But the Uptons aren't going downhill. They're going to Atlanta.

B.J., a 28-year-old center fielder, got there two months ago after eight seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays. He signed the largest-free-agent contract the Braves have handed out: $75.25 million over five years.

Justin - three years and four days younger - arrived Thursday. A two-time National League All-Star right fielder, Justin was the centerpiece of a multi-player trade between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Braves, for whom he'll play left field.

Arizona also sent third baseman Chris Johnson to Atlanta, and the Braves gave up the versatile Martin Prado, plus pitcher Randall Delgado, pitching prospect Zeke Spruill and minor league infielders Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury.

"They'll get to play together basically in the prime of their careers, where they'll have a chance to win a World Series and some things," said Manny Upton, who said his sons were never even teammates in youth baseball.

And barring another trade, the Uptons will share the outfield at least through the 2015 season, when Justin - slated to make $9.75 million this season - can become a free agent.

B.J. reportedly will earn $12.4 million this season. And Atlanta's 23-year-old right fielder, Jason Hayward, is a steal at $3.65 million, considering he hit 27 home runs and won a Gold Glove last year.

"If we push ourselves... there's no question we can be the best outfield in baseball," Justin Upton told The Associated Press."I'm not going to give us that label until we prove it."

New York Mets third baseman David Wright, the Uptons' friend from Chesapeake, described Atlanta's new outfield as "very, very potent" to the Pilot on Thursday.

Wright will get plenty of chance to see for himself: The NL East rivals and will play either other 19 times each season.

"It's a very slim chance that one brother makes it to the big leagues, an even slimmer chance that both brothers make it to the big leagues, and even slimmer that both of them get a chance to be in the same outfield at the same time," said Wright, an AAU teammate of B.J. Upton as a youth.

"I'm happy for them they'll get to play together. I'm not too happy that it happens to be in our division."

The Uptons have long paralleled each other, beyond simply being siblings.

B.J. was the second overall pick in the 2002 amateur draft out of Greenbrier Christian. Three years later, Justin was the No. 1 pick out of Great Bridge.

Both debuted in the big leagues at age 19 on Aug. 2 - three years apart. They were high school shortstops who became outfielders as professionals.

And they both set high standards early in their careers that have been difficult to duplicate. B.J. hit .300 in his first full season, with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. He hit 28 home runs last season, but the other numbers from that first full year remain career highs.

Inconsistency has dogged Justin. He followed All-Star seasons in '09 and '11 - in the latter he was fourth in NL Most Valuable Player voting - with less-productive years.

Last year, he batted .280 with 17 home runs, 67 RBIs and a career-low slugging percentage, though his father pointed out that he was battling a thumb injury most of the season.

"The expectations were through the roof" for Justin, Arizona's general manager Kevin Towers told the AP. "When the team struggled, it seemed like it was always because of Justin. (That's) hard to take when you're a young individual trying to establish yourself.... I think some pressure will be off of him."

Even more reason, Justin Upton said, to look forward to a most enjoyable family reunion.

"More than anything, being able to show up at the ballpark genuinely excited every day and have that energy," he said. "The more energy you can bring from the start every day, it makes you a better player."

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