Justin Upton: All-Star or Enigma?

Martin Prado

Martin Prado

Justin Upton joined the Atlanta Braves last off-season and high expectations accompanied his arrival.  Upton started out on fire in April, after that he had a mediocre season.  Overall, his season numbers ended up very close to his career averages, good but not great.

The Upton and Chris Johnson for Martin Prado and Randall Delgado plus prospects trade has long been considered a win for Atlanta.  However, if Chris Johnson wasn’t included in the trade, or hadn’t hit the cover off the ball last season, I’d consider the trade a win for Arizona.  Johnson made that trade, I’d take Martin Prado straight up over Justin Upton right now, and it is not that close.

Upton was supposed to be a middle of the order terror, driving in runs in bunches.  Instead he had only 70 RBIs last season and is now firmly entrenched in the number two position in the Braves batting order.  Prado had 82 RBIs last season with Arizona and Prado is a superior number two hitter who can handle the bat better, he’s superior defensively in left field and can play multiple positions.  Plus, Prado came up through the Braves organization and was loved in Atlanta by management, players and fans.

Justin Upton is not a negative, he is just more of a loner, rarely giving interviews and is more follower than leader. That’s okay, not everyone on the team has to be Type A, or make a big impact on those in their midst.  It is just that when it comes to impact in and around the organization, Prado was wearing size 16 shoes and Upton is in single digits.

Upton is a powerfully built 6’2″, 205 pounds and is athletic and runs well.  If he could put an entire season together in 2014, he could carry the Braves a long way.  But when you look at his career production, he has only reached 30 homers once in his six-year major league career (he also played a partial season) and he’s never reached 100 RBIs. His career high in RBIs is 88, six more than Prado had last season.

The 26-year old Upton will turn 27 in August.  He’s no longer a phenom with unlimited potential.  He is a veteran who has established a track record in the major leagues.  Does all that potential lead to All-Star status, or enigma in the coming years?  Should everyone just accept that he is a good, but not great player?

Is it time to pull out the famous line made by former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green, who when talking about the Chicago Bears, after a game that the Cardinals led by 20 points late in the third quarter and lost?  After that game, Green said of the Bears, “The Bears are what we thought they were.”   

Do we already know what Justin Upton is as a player?  Or is there more to learn?  I’m not sure.

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About Jim Hart

Jim has covered the Atlanta Braves since 2008 for local and national broadcast news organizations. He also appears regularly talking Braves baseball on WCCP-FM in Clemson, South Carolina, and the ESPN Radio affiliate, 1420 Sports in St. Augustine, Florida.

Comments

  1. I agree. I think we have already discussed this as well:) He is what he is and we shouldn’t plan on more (same with Heyward). If he can hit .275/.350/.475 in the “2-hole thru 5-hole” I can live that! 25HR and 80+ RBI … woo hoo! He does run well so he should be in the 2-4 slots and let the slow pokes push him around the bases. We can see below what worked last year in the 1-3 spots. Push these three through the lineup as much as possible and just hope the rest can hit their average.

    Heyward (.322/.403/.551 in leadoff last year)
    J Upton (.301/.384/.538 in 2-hole last year)
    Freeman (.326/.406/.515 in 3-hole last year)
    Gattis (performed better in the 6-8 spots)
    Johnson (performed better in 6-8 spots)

    BJ/Schafer (just need to perform)
    Simmons (has performed better in the 2 spot and 6-8 spots)
    If Uggla hits, put him back in the 4 hole! and shift Gattis and Johnson down 1 spot.

  2. NorthAlabamaGM says:

    I have had to re-think the lineup after reading and reviewing the numbers. The numbers last year show, hitting in the 2-hole between Heyward and Freeman, J Upton put up GREAT numbers. Bat them 1,2,3 again this year and hope it continues and the other five players just perform somewhere close to their career averages. If Uggla can hit again, put him in the 4 hole and put Gattis/Johnson in the 5-6 spot and BJ/Schafer/SImmons bat 7-8.

  3. Mike Crowe says:

    Yeah, Johnson made that trade digestable. Trading Prado was another in a line of mistakes but I’ve come to expect that. Upton is a good player and I don’t think the cards are in on him yet. He has flashes of … well, not greatness perhaps, but he carried the Braves for a while and I’m not sure the Braves make the postseason without him last year. Some get better with age – Andres Galaraga comes to mind, and remember this was Upton’s first season with a new team last year. I’ll take 263-27-70 (old stat line) right now as a starting point, considering the pitching one faces these days, and the fact that he hit out of the two hole a lot of the time – not an RBI slot. Plus Upton, like the rest of the order that had no order, never knew where he would be hiitting a lot of the time in the lineup and that makes a difference with some hitters. I just have a feeling that he hasn’t peaked quite yet so I’ll cut him some slack.

    • New team but his brother was with him and his dad came to a lot of games. It doesn’t get much comfier than that. Upton is one of those guys that make me scratch my head as to why his hitting numbers aren’t better. He’s got very good bat speed, has good balance and a level swing. Is it concentration? I don’t know.

      • Mike Crowe says:

        I don’t know, but baseball, unlike a lot of team sports, has a lot to do with your thinking – it’s a tough game. Sandy Kofax couldn’t find homeplate for years then he made that mental adjustment and the rest was history. I like Upton’s swing too and his makeup. Perhaps this year it will happen

What Do You Think?