The first overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Justin Upton had extremely high expectations set from the start. He made his MLB debut in 2007, where he batted .221 with only two home runs and 11 RBIs in 43 games.
His struggles continued in 2008 as he was sent down to triple-A after batting .176 in both May and June. His potential began to reemerge after he was called up in late August, as he batted .276 with 21 hits in 22 games played.
2009 was Upton’s breaking party, as he set then career highs in batting average at .300, in home runs with 26 and RBIs with 86. He was voted an All-Star for the first time and was even recognized as a top-25 National League MVP candidate.
We have seen MVP-caliber levels from Upton on three occasions (2009, 2011 and 2014), although his 2011 campaign remains his most impressive. Upton played in a career-high 159 games, batted .289, hit 31 home runs, drove in 88 runners, scored 105 runs and stole 21 bases which resulted in a fourth-place finish in the American League MVP vote.
MVP Caliber once again
This year Upton’s average draft position was 76th according to ESPN.com. He has been a consistent fantasy player for his entire career, although his batting average had been on a steady decline since batting .289 with the Diamondbacks in 2011.
Now a 29-year-old veteran, Upton has acquired a second wind. He is currently batting .281 with 21 home runs, 77 RBIs and 67 runs scored. So far in the second half of the season, Upton is batting .337 with six home runs, 23 RBIs, 29 hits and a league best 11 doubles in 22 games played. Over a 162-season, he would be currently on pace to set career highs in home runs with 33 and RBIs with 121.
His BABIP is high at .351, although he is currently making 43.7 percent hard contact, which is the highest mark in his career. He also has an identical home run to fly ball rate as he did a season ago, at 18 percent, which makes his home run potential seem sustainable.
Fantasy value moving forward
Due to the departure of J.D. Martinez, and injuries, Upton has found himself batting primarily in the three-hole, which bodes well for his fantasy value. With 52 games left in the season for the Tigers, Upton will have ample opportunity to continue to climb the fantasy ranks.
With veterans Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler along with emerging star Nick Castellanos, the Tigers lineup remains one of the best on paper. They may be out of contention in the American League Central, but their offense should remain within the top-10.
Upton’s fantasy value moving forward should be similar to the likes of Andrew McCutchen, as they both are veteran center pieces of their offenses who offer 25 home run and 15 steal upside. He will likely be a top-75 pick once again in 2018.
Featured image by WBCK
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