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Justin Upton: Is Sunday’s game a sign of hope?

May 23, 2021; Anaheim, California, USA; Los Angeles Angels left fielder Justin Upton (10) hits a sacrifice RBI against the Oakland Athletics during the eighth inning at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
May 23, 2021; Anaheim, California, USA; Los Angeles Angels left fielder Justin Upton (10) hits a sacrifice RBI against the Oakland Athletics during the eighth inning at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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The LA Angels were getting a high-upside player when they traded for Justin Upton.

Justin Upton, the former number one overall draft pick, has had high upside ever since he came into the league. When the LA Angels made the deal, they were getting one of the best hitters in baseball.

In Upton’s 125 games with the Detroit Tigers in 2017, he smoked 28 homers and 94 RBI. When he went over to the Angels that year, he still performed. His batting averaged dropped from .279 to .273, but he still crushed seven homers in 27 games. He finished the year hitting .273/.361/.540 with 35 home runs and 109 RBI.

Those All-Star numbers didn’t return in 2018, but he was still hitting 30 home runs.

In 2019, Upton only played 63 games. He hit 12 home runs (on pace for about 30 in a full season) and 40 RBI (on pace for about 102 in a full season). He hit when he was on the field, right? Sort of.

The power was certainly there, but he posted a .215 batting average. That was the lowest of his career. Upton was showing signs of slowing down.

2020 was eerily similar. He only played in 42 games (missing 18), and hit nine homers. He would have been on pace for about 34 if he had played 162 games. His averaged dipped again, however, to a new career low (.204).

Here we are in 2020, and Upton’s found yet another career-low. He’s hitting a career-low .197 along with a career-low .275 on-base percentage.

Upton has hit eight home runs this year, and 18 RBI. So, he’s been unlike these past couple years where it’s clear that he’s not performing to his potential, but he’s still providing power to the lineup.

Signs were pointing to a lost season from Upton, but there’s now a glimmer of hope.

In an intriguing move from Angels’ Manager Joe Maddon on Sunday, he batted Upton leadoff. Upton seemed to like the move. He went two for four with a run scored and a RBI.

He still had a little too many strikeouts for my liking, striking out in his other two at-bats. He leads the team in K% at 31.5%. But any day where a major league hitter can go two for four is a good day.

In fact, he was one of only two players on the team to have multiple hits in the contest.

The thing about Upton is that, even with him striking out a lot this year, I’m not sold that he’s not seeing the ball well. A 9.4 BB% isn’t particularly great, but it’s not criminal, and it’s actually second on the team behind Mike Trout’s AL-leading 18.5 BB%.

I’m still not willing to give up on Upton. He still has games like this where he reminds us of why he’s been a Silver Slugger three times before, and why he’s been an All-Star four times before, and why he was the first choice in the MLB draft once before.

He’s only 33, and he’s nowhere near done playing ball. He has plenty left.

Things without Albert Pujols. Next

This year has been disappointing, and he’s dug himself into quite the hole here. I still believe in Upton’s tools, and think that him rising to the occasion when moved up to the top spot in the lineup can be a huge confidence boost. He’s worthy of more chances.

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