Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Justin Upton: Man on a Mission

Justin Upton is insanely, impossibly, ridiculously hot right now. He's so hot, in fact, that you can almost see the flames radiating from his bat every time he swings. His plate appearances have materialized into must-see TV.

After homering in both games of yesterday's doubleheader in Colorado, he now has 11 big flies on the young season. Nobody else has more than seven. He also has the highest slugging percentage (.813) and most total bases (61) of anyone in baseball. But since all but one of his dingers came with nobody on base, his power surge has produced just 16 RBI. For that he can blame Atlanta's table-setters--Andrelton Simmons and his big brother B.J. Upton--who have a combined OBP somewhere in the .250 range. Because of them, most times when the younger Upton digs in, the table is empty.

But a dearth of RBI opportunities hasn't stopped Upton from enjoying one of the best starts in baseball history. The Braves have gone along for the ride, jumping out to a 15-5 record and building a quick five game lead over the NL East, making their 25 year-old left fielder an early MVP favorite as well as a shoo-in to make his third All-Star team.

Out west, Upton's former employers have to be kicking themselves for trading him away when he was still under team control through 2015. Everyone could see the former first overall draft pick had this kind of superstar talent in him; he just needed time to mature. Now, he's growing up right before our eyes and is poised to become a major force for years to come. Three weeks into the season, it seems inevitable that future generations of baseball fans will look back on this trade the same way we disparage Boston's sale of Babe Ruth or the Reds' trading Frank Robinson.

More importantly, Upton's home run barrage merely reinforces what we knew three months ago; the Diamondbacks were dumb to trade Justin Upton.

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