Fact or Fiction: Justin Upton

by Jimmy Hascup

The Rotoprofessor christened the “Fact or Fiction” column with an article on the streaking Adam Lind.  While that column examined a player who is turning heads with his fast start, this one will discuss a player of a different sort, one who hasn’t quite lived up to his pre-major league billing, Justin Upton.  Maybe “fact or fiction” is a harsh heading to give the 21-year-old, but with all the hype that surrounds someone of his talent level, why not?

We all are aware that Justin Upton has an exceptional skill set; it just hasn’t manifested itself into fantasy stardom just yet.  This season he is hitting .185 (5-27) with 1 RBI and 3 Runs.  He also has 10 strikeouts.  As a fantasy owner expecting his talents to result in a solid season, I am very disappointed.

Justin Upton was drafted first overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2005, at the ripe old age of 17.  In 2007 Upton was the recipient of the USA Today’s Minor League Player of the Year Award.  Some previous award winners were Matt Garza, Francisco Liriano, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes, Josh Beckett and Josh Hamilton, so automatically Justin Upton was associated with high expectations.  He’s also been compared to Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.  Add in the fact that Justin’s brother is BJ and he should already be a superstar, right?  Kevin Goldstein, at Baseball Prospectus, wrote that Upton had “more tools than Home Depot.” I’d like to add, while he may have the tools, he has to know how to use them.

Justin Upton played his first major league game in 2007 at the age of 19.  I don’t know about all the readers here, but most 19-year-olds are just starting college and I’d like to bet aren’t facing grown men throwing in the mid 90s.  He batted .221 with 2 HR and 11 RBI.  From the time he was drafted through 2007, Justin Upton had 30 HR in 823 minor league ABs to go along with 51 doubles, 136 RBIs, 34 SBs and a batting average just over .300.   I’d say that was pretty good for a guy who still hadn’t reached the legal drinking age.

Last season, in 108 games (356 ABs), Upton flashed some of his potential.  While his average, .250, leaves more to be desired, he did have 15 HR and 42 RBI.  A huge red flag was his strikeouts: 121.  That’s about one-third of the time.    Upton is going to have to cut down on the strikeouts and make more contact if he is truly going to be a force.  In 2008 he had a contact rate lower than Adam Dunn’s (68% to 72%).  And while Upton is still only 21, sooner or later experience is going to have to kick in.

As a fantasy owner, you have to hope for a few things.  If Upton is not going to be sent down (and there have been rumors that he might), he has to play everyday.  Upton cannot be in one day and out the next.  I think the Diamondbacks realize this and that’s the reason he might be sent to the minors.  Another key factor is his place in the batting order.  Most of the time Upton has batted eighth this season.  As somebody who strikes out a lot to begin with, putting him in the eighth spot in the lineup (in front of the pitcher) is a detriment to his development.  He’s going to be constantly fed offspeed stuff, and at this point in his career he needs to see as many fastballs as possible.  The key to his development will be his ability to hit both the offspeed stuff and the fastball.  At this point in time, he doesn’t seem to be adapting as quickly as hoped.

So for this year, I’m going to hope Justin Upton receives consistent playing time.  Even if it has to be in the minors for a month, I will wait it out in hopes of cashing in on his talent.  If he stays with the big league club, then I’ll hope he adapts quickly and makes strides in cutting down his strikeout rate.  Ultimately, I’m sold on his talent, I’m just not sold that it will all come together this year.  Thus far, he’s shown me that he is still overmatched at the big league level.  Until he adjusts, I’m not expecting too much.

How about everyone else?  Do you think Justin Upton will turn into a force this year?  Or do you think he’s a bust?

To read the previous article, click here.

One comment

  1. I don’t see him doing it this year. I wouldn’t write him off as bust though either.

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