Justin Upton

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Justin Irvin Upton

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Biographical Information[edit]

Justin Upton, born in 1987, was the youngest player in the National League in 2007.

Upton was one of the USA's top players in the 2004 World Junior Championship, hitting .417 (second to Brandon Snyder on the team) with 4 triples and a home run in 24 AB. He led the team with 8 runs and 2 steals. He failed to make the tourney All-Star team as Ji-soo Kim of South Korea was chosen at shortstop.

He was selected as the top pick in the 2005 amateur draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Scouted by Greg Lonigro, he signed with the club in early 2006 for a record 6.5 million dollars. That summer, he made his pro debut with the South Bend Silver Hawks of the Midwest League, hitting .263 with 12 homers and 66 RBIs for the team.

Upton played shortstop in high school, but became an outfielder in the professional ranks. He was timed in the 60 yard dash at 6.2 seconds, the fastest ever recorded time at Perfect Inning Games. Upton is compared to a young Ken Griffey Jr. with more speed. Upton batted second and played center field for the USA in the 2007 Futures Game, going 1 for 2 with a homer in the US's 7-2 loss.

Upton made his Major League debut as a defensive substitute on August 2, 2007 and started the Diamondbacks' next game in right field, but went hitless both days. He was hitting .309 with 13 home runs in 71 games for the AA Mobile Bay Bears of the Southern League when he was called up. In his second major league game, Upton fell a single shy of the cycle. He ended the year with .221 batting average in 43 games in the majors.

Upton was the center of controversy in the 2007 NLCS when he stared down Jeff Francis then rolled his shoulder into Kazuo Matsui while trying to break up a double play. Rockies SS Troy Tulowitzki criticized the actions. Upton said "I was just playing the game. I did what I was supposed to do. That's what you're taught to do when you slide is pop up." Some fans at Chase Field threw bottles onto the field to protest Upton's actions.

In 2008, he hit .250 in 108 games, with 19 doubles and 15 homers. He took a big step forward in 2009, when he batted .300 in 138 games with 30 doubles, 7 triples and 26 homers, scoring 84 runs and driving in 86. He also stole 20 bases, after compiling only 3 over his first two seasons. He was named to the All-Star team for the first time. In 2010, he fell back a bit, ending the year at .273 with 27 doubles and 17 homers. In 2011, however, he had another excellent season, winning the Silver Slugger Award for his prowess with the bat while returning to the All-Star Game. He hit .289 with 39 doubles and 31 homers, scored 105 runs, drove in 88 and stole 21 bases. More importantly, the D-Backs returned to the postseason after a few seasons spent treading water since their division title in Justin's rookie year. In the NLDS, he went 4 for 20 with a pair of homers as Arizona lost in 5 games to the Milwaukee Brewers.

He is the brother of Tampa Bay Rays player B.J. Upton. In 2011, they became the first pair of brothers to both hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases in the same season. On August 3, 2012, they both hit the 100th homer of their careers on the same day. Justin was first to the milestone, homering against Kyle Kendrick in the 2nd inning of a 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies; then, one hour later, B.J. went yard against Tommy Hunter in the 4th inning of the Tampa Bay Rays' 2-0 win over the Baltimore Orioles. After a slow start, Upton finished the 2012 season at .280, coupled with 17 homers and 67 RBI. After the season, the Diamondbacks found themselves with a glut of outfielders, with returning starters Upton, Jason Kubel and Gerardo Parra joined by free agent signee Cody Ross and top rookie Adam Eaton fresh off a great season in AAA. They attempted to trade Upton to the Seattle Mariners for a package of pitching prospects in January of 2013, but Upton vetoed the proposed trade on January 10th, invoking his no-trade clause. On January 24th, however, another trade was arranged, this time to the Atlanta Braves, which Upton accepted as it meant playing with his brother B.J., who had signed with the Braves as a free agent earlier that off-season, Accompanying Justin to Atlanta was 3B Chris Johnson, while the Diamondbacks received five players in return: IF/OF Martin Prado, Ps Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill, and IFs Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury.

Justin hit a pair of homers for the Braves against the Chicago Cubs on April 6, 2013. The second was a walk-off shot against Carlos Marmol in the bottom of the 9th which gave the Braves a 6-5 win; a couple of batters earlier, his brother B.J. had also homered off Marmol to tie the score. It was the first time since May 28, 1996 that two brothers had homered in the same innings; Billy and Cal Ripken had last done it for the Baltimore Orioles. That game was part of a torrid start by the Braves, who went 11-1 over the season's first two weeks, in no small part thanks to Justin, who had a major league-leading 7 homers at that point. On April 23rd, the brothers went one better in the second game of a doubleheader sweep of the Rockies at Coors Field: B.J. led off the 5th inning with a long ball against Jon Garland and Justin hit Garland's next pitch over the centerfield fence for another homer. It was only the second time in major league history that brothers had hit back-to-back home runs: Lloyd and Paul Waner had done so for the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 15, 1938. For Justin, the home run was already his 11th of the year, and he still was leading the major leagues. Not surprisingly, he was voted the National League's Player of the Month for April, finishing the month with a .298 average, a .734 slugging percentage, 12 homers, 22 runs scored and 19 RBI. In his first trip back to Arizona since the trade on May 13th, he had a huge night, collecting four hits including his major league-leading 13th homer in a 10-1 win over the Diamondbacks. On May 17th, he hit his his first grand slam of the season to lead the Braves to an 8-5 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

When he and B.J. both homered in a game on June 24, 2014, it marked the fourth time they had done so in a game for the Braves, tying the major league mark for brothers. Wilton­ and Vladimir Guerrero and Jason and Jeremy Giambi also performed the feat four times. In the Uptons' case, the first three instances came within their first 20 games for the Braves, and the next occurrence had to wait over a year. They became the sole holders of the record when they both homered in a 7-6 win over the Washington Nationals on August 8th. Upton hit .270 with 29 homers and 102 RBIs in 154 games as the Braves best offensive player, winning his second Silver Slugger Award as a result. However, in an unexpected move, he was traded to the San Diego Padres on December 19th, in return for four prospects - Max Fried, Jace Peterson, Dustin Peterson and Mallex Smith. He was the third starting outfielder acquired by the Padres in a week, following trades for Matt Kemp and Wil Myers. He was the Padres hottest hitter in the early going in 2015, leading the team in just about every offensive category. On May 24th, he had another great day at the plate, as he connected for a grand slam off Carlos Frias of the Los Angeles Dodgers, then added a two-run double later in the game to lead San Diego to an 11-3 win. In 150 games for the Padres, he hit .251 with 26 homers and 81 RBIs. His numbers were diminished by playing in pitcher-friendly Petco Park, but his OPS+ was in line with his career norms at 121.

He became a free agent after the 2015 season and on January 18, 2016, he signed a six-year deal with the Detroit Tigers worth $132.75 million. It was the latest in a series of bold off-season moves by the Tigers, coming off an uncharacteristic last-place finish in the AL Central in 2015. His first season with Detroit was not so great, as he hit just .246 in 153 games - his lowest batting average since his rookie year. He did hit 28 doubles and 31 homers, scored 81 runs and drove in 87 while maintaining an OPS+ of 107, so he wasn't a total washout. He bounced back in a big way in 2017 however, as he returned to the All-Star Game while hitting .279 with 28 homers and 94 RBIs in 125 games for Detroit. On August 31st Upton was traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim along with some cash in return for Grayson Long and a player to be named. He hit .245 in 27 games for L.A., with 7 homers and 15 RBIs. After the season, he signed a contract extension with the Angels to give him $108 million over five years. In 2018, he played 145 games as the starting left fielder and hit .257 with 30 homers and 85 RBIs. His OPS+ was 121, his 11th consecutive season above 100.

Upton missed the first 2 1/2 months of the 2019 season with an injury before making his debut on June 17th. He homered on the first pitch he saw that season off Edwin Jackson of the Toronto Blue Jays. He played just 63 games, batting .215 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs. His OPS+ was 90, which was almost the same as what he achieved in the next two seasons: in the pandemic-shortened 2020, he batted .204 in 42 games, with 9 homers and 22 RBIs, and in another injury-plagued campaign in 2021, he hit .211 in 89 games, with 17 homers and 41 RBIs. On April 2, 2022, the Angels decided to bite the bullet and have him designated for assignment even though they were still on the hook for $28 million for the final season of his five-year contract. On May 21st, the Seattke Mariners signed him to a one-year deal.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 4-time All-Star (2009, 2011, 2015 & 2017)
  • 3-time Silver Slugger Award Winner (2011/NL, 2014/NL & 2017/AL)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 8 (2009, 2011 & 2013-2018)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 4 (2011 & 2016-2018)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 2 (2014 & 2017)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 3 (2011, 2012 & 2017)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Maria Guardado: "Upton key cog to vault Halos' offense: Slugger coming off career-high 35 HRs, .901 OPS in '17", mlb.com, December 15, 2017. [1]

Related Sites[edit]