Los Angeles Angels Bounce Back Candidate: Justin Upton

Justin Upton, Los Angeles Angels, (Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images)
Justin Upton, Los Angeles Angels, (Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images) /

After an injury-riddled season, veteran outfielder Justin Upton is poised for a bounce-back campaign in 2020.

Nothing seemed to go right for Justin Upton in 2019. The 32-year-old outfielder experienced knee soreness in Spring Training, only to have injuries follow him all season long. After playing in at least 130 games for every season dating back to 2009, Upton appeared in the lineup only 63 times last year. He hit a putrid .215, and for the first time since 2015, failed to hit 30 home runs.

Finally healthy again, Justin Upton is ready for a bounce-back season in 2020. And the projection systems seem to think so, too. Given a good bill of health, multiple projections have him hitting 20+ home runs again, slugging the baseball the way fans are accustom to seeing.

One of the oddities in Upton’s game last year was the way he made contact. Usually one of the top players in the league in making square contact (measured in barrel percentage), Upton often got under the baseball in 2019. As a result, many of his at-bats ended in one of the most unproductive outcomes possible, an infield fly.

Upton hit the ball hard only 37% of the time last year, after finishing near the top of the league in that same category during the previous season. All of the numbers reflect what fans saw with their own eyes, a player struggling to find his rhythm while battling through a slew of injuries.

If you are looking for early predictors of success from Spring Training, look away. Upton got off to a dreadful start in the Cactus League before going 2-2 with a home run on Monday. Overall, he is hitting 4-18 with six strikeouts. Just remember, it’s March 10.

In the end, I expect Upton to find his groove again. It’s clear that his swing was off last season, compensating for a sore knee in the limited action he saw at the plate. Looking over his career numbers, you find a player who has been clockwork consistent in the way he makes contact with the baseball, until last season. Expect that to change in 2020.

Next. Angels make first cuts of spring

After signing a five-year, $108 million contract in 2017, Angels fans have the right to be frustrated with Upton’s output so far. 2020 offers a chance for redemption, and the team’s success might depend on it.