Justin Upton on the Upswing for Padres
It has been a mostly forgettable 2015 season for the San Diego Padres. After several big moves made by GM A.J. Preller during the offseason, the team is currently sitting out of a playoff spot, and will likely be sitting at home when October playoff baseball rolls around.
However, at least one of the players whom Preller acquired has been contributing positively on a consistent basis. Outfielder Justin Upton, whom the Padres received in a deal last winter with the Atlanta Braves, has by far been the club’s best offensive player.
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In a contract year, Upton is setting himself up for a hefty raise, be that from San Diego or another club. Interestingly enough, as the Padres come to Philadelphia for a three game series, Upton could potentially be in red pinstripes next season, as our own Ethan Witte proposed.
Upton came over to the Padres from the Braves for prospects Max Fried, Jace Peterson, Dustin Peterson, Mallex Smith, and an international draft slot. The Padres were getting one of the premiere power bats in the game, a player who had mashed 164 home runs in his eight Major League seasons. The cleanup hitter for much of the season, Upton has a team-leading 22 home runs this season for the Friars.
Upton quickly became a star in Arizona after being drafted out of high school by the Diamondbacks with the first overall pick in the much-heralded 2005 MLB Amateur Draft.
Even at just 18 years old, Upton had no problems tearing up minor league pitching. He would make his MLB debut at the age of 19 on August 2nd, 2007 as the youngest player in the game.
Upton became the face of the Dbacks franchise through his strong play. He was an NL All-Star in just his second full season in 2009 when he batted .300, smacked 26 home runs and drove in 86 runs.
From 2009 to 2012, Upton never batted below .273 and had 15 or more home runs in each of those seasons. He was a National League All-Star in both 2009 and 2011, and won a Silver Slugger in the latter year. Upton belted a career-high 31 home runs during the 2011 season, and posted an impressive .898 OPS.
The Norfolk, Virginia native had developed into a star for the Snakes, but the team was going in the opposite direction. A 2011 NL West division championship was followed by a disappointing 81-81 record and a third place finish in 2012.
With the opportunity to replenish the farm system and acquire major-league talent, the Dbacks traded Upton to the Atlanta Braves, where he would team up with his big brother, B.J. (now known as Melvin), on a re-tooled Braves team.
Upton’s first season in A-Town in 2013 would be a strong one. He won NL Player of the Month in April by launching 12 of the 27 home runs he hit for the year. The burly outfielder finished the season with a .263/.354/.464 slash line and drove in 70 runs.
Led by Upton and Freddie Freeman offensively, the Braves comfortably won the NL East, but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
2014 would be an even better season for Upton, as he would hit to a .270 average, blast 27 big flies, and drive in a career-best 102 runs. J-UP’s 102 RBI were the third highest mark in the National League, while his .491 slugging percentage ranked eighth best in the league.
Unfortunately for the Braves, they would waste Upton’s great season. The team went 79-83 and finished 16 games out of first place behind the Washington Nationals. Management decided a rebuild was necessary, and the team shipped off Upton to the Padres, where he eventually would be reunited with his brother once again. Melvin was brought over in the Craig Kimbrel trade just before the 2015 season began.
J-UP has continued to do his thing in San Diego, even if the team as a whole has failed to live up to expectations. Upton has been the MVP on the club, with a 3.1 OWAR.
Trade rumors involving Upton were a hot topic before July’s trade deadline, but the Padres elected to keep him around in hopes he could propel them to the playoffs. He has certainly been doing his part to try to keep the Padres in that playoff conversation, having gone 16-55 (.291) with three home runs and 10 RBIs, 12 walks and a .564 slugging percentage in his last 15 games. In that span, the Padres have gone 10-5, and now sit 8.5 games out of the division lead behind the Dodgers and Giants.
“That’s the goal from day one of the season to try and win each series and we’ve done a good job of it lately,” Upton said to the AP after a two-homer game against the Nationals on Wednesday.
The Padres slugger will need to be huge again for the club if they want to gain more ground in the division in the series starting Friday night at Citizens Bank Park. He is a career .288 hitter against the Phils in 222 at-bats against them, with 10 homers and 29 RBIs. In a series at Petco Park between the two clubs a few weeks ago, Upton went 4-11 with a triple, home run and three RBIs.
Upton has been particularly good hitting with runners on base this season, batting .301 with 10 long balls, 58 RBIs and a .538 slugging percentage in those situations. He is set to face Aaron Nola, Adam Morgan and Alec Asher this weekend. He has one hit — a two-RBI triple and a walk against Nola, while he is 1-2 off Morgan. Asher is making his MLB debut.
The Phillies will look to cool Upton’s hot-bat this weekend at Citizens Bank Park, but Upton could also be auditioning for the Phillies front office. The Padres will likely make a run at keeping the slugger around for the long-term, but there will be many suitors for his services.
In need of a power-hitting outfield bat, he may be a nice fit in the rebuilding Phillies lineup. That would come at a steep price. It will be interesting to see how free-agency plays out for the man who turned 28 years old just a few days ago, entering what should be the prime of his career.