LA Angels: Justin Upton needs to seize opportunity

Justin Upton, Los Angeles Angels (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)
Justin Upton, Los Angeles Angels (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images) /

With the platoon situation now behind him, Angels outfielder Justin Upton needs to step up and prove he is still a capable member of the team.

On August 3rd, reality came crashing down on Justin Upton. The Angels had just made the decision to promote the team’s top prospect and the veteran had been informed that he was being relegated to a platoon role in left field.

Now in the third-year of a five-year deal he signed in 2017, Upton was at a crossroads. Even with $49 million left on his contract (not including 2020), the Angels were signaling that they were ready to move on to the future and there was potential that he was going to be left out of it.

Already mired in a season’s long slump (longer if you dig back to his dismal 2019 campaign), Upton responded, but not in the way the Angels or the outfielder hoped. After hitting .125/.182/.275 before Adell’s promotion, Upton collected just one hit and nine strikeouts in his next 24 at-bats (.042/.148/.042). The uncertainty of regular playing time was obviously weighing on his performance and coupled with his existing struggles, were just sinking him further into his slump.

Then August 31st came, and with it, the MLB Trade Deadline.

While the Angels surely looked for a way to offload Upton’s massive contract, they ultimately found no takers in the process. However, what they did accomplish was finding a deal for his platoon-mate, Brian Goodwin.

Suddenly, Justin Upton has a new lease on life, and both he and the Angels need to capitalize on it.

At .138/.222/.300 with four home runs and 10 RBI, Upton has a huge hole of which to dig himself out. He ranks (according to Statcast) in the 45th percentile in hard-hit rate, 46th percentile in exit velocity, 21st percentile in barrel percentage, and 20th percentile in whiff rate. Compared to his 2018 rankings, when he was in 92nd percentile in hard-hit rate, 81st in exit velocity, and 95th in barrel rate, and you can see a player going in the completely wrong direction.

It seems hardly fair to judge Upton based on his 2020 performance, but when taken into conjunction with his injury-riddle and ineffective 2019 campaign, you can understand the worries. From a pure value standpoint, he’s been worth -6.4 million (according to Fangraphs) over the last two seasons, all while collecting $25 million in salaries after pro-rating 2020.

That all said, his 2020 performance to date is a small sample size, and a strong September can put that behind him and perhaps set-up some solid momentum to carry into 2021. Already, he had made some minor strides, hitting .313/.421/.750 with two home runs and four RBI over his last five games. Again, it is a small sample size, but given his struggles to date, any glimmer of hope is something to cling to.

Upton needs to put August behind him, and 2019 for that matter, and dial in with a big September. The Goodwin trade provides him with the ample opportunity to show that he can be an important piece moving into 2021, but ultimately it is up to him to step up and seize it.

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If not, more top prospects are looming and could relegate Upton back to obscurity quickly.