Get Ready for Super Upton Bros. in Atlanta

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The two Upton brothers seen here on their previous teams. Photo credit: Chris O’Meara, Associated Press

Earlier today, the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks garnered some headlines when Arizona, after years of speculation, agreed to trade outfielder Justin Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson to Atlanta in exchange third baseman/ left field Martin Prado and others.

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Justin Upton, then a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Credit: Associated Press

Finishing fourth in MVP voting in 2011 with a .289/.359/.529 line with 31 homers, 88 RBI and 20 stolen bases and leading the Diamondbacks to the NL West title, the perception of the 25-year-old Upton in the Diamondbacks’ front office seemed to dissipate since.  For D’backs fans, this has been a confusing off-season in which the snakes have sent top prospect Trevor Bauer to Cleveland and outfielder Chris Young to Oakland.  Also sent to Atlanta to fill their third base void was Chris Johnson, whom the Diamondbacks acquired from the Houston Astros last summer, and hit an underrated .281/.326./.451 with 15 home runs and 76 RBI.  For perspective, he is projected to bat eighth in Atlanta’s opening day lineup.

The 29-year-old Martin Prado’s versatility is a pretty big loss between the low strikeout rate over a season (averages 73 a season) and value; in 2010 he was worth 4.9 WAR while last year he was worth 5.4 WAR, according to baseballreference.com.   Prado, a perfect no.2 hole hitter, was also about to get pretty expensive; he is a free agent following the 2013 season in a class that houses names like Kevin Youkilis, Wilson Betemit, Eric Chavez and Michael Young.  For Braves General Manager Frank Wren, the decision was obvious: trade a 10-15 home run performer in Prado who is at the peak of his career along with Randall Delgado (76 Ks in 92.2 IP with a 4.37 ERA), and middle-of-the-pack prospects Nick Ahmed, a shortstop who has no position thanks to Andrelton Simmons; infielder Brandon Drury who posted mediocre numbers in A-ball and Zeke Spruill who went 9-11 with a 3.67 ERA in Double A last year for a 25-year-old Justin Upton, who has the best days of his career in front of him, and at one point, according to Peter Gammons “the best 20-year-old I’ve ever seen.”  Consider the Braves managed to acquire Upton without giving up any of their top five prospects.

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BJ Upton at his introductory Atlanta Braves press conference. Photo credit: Daniel Shirey, US Presswire

To Justin’s left will be his older brother, B.J, manning center field after Atlanta signed him to a 5-year $75.25mm deal back in late November.  For “Bossman Junior,” it’s all about living up to potential  as the former no. 2 overall pick has the power–hitting 28 last year  and a combined 69 since 2010–and speed, averaging 39 steals a season.  However, his OBP has gone from a career high .383 in 2007 to a meager .298 last year.  For his career, Upton’s OPS has remained pretty consistent, at .758 in the course of a typical season. To B.J’s left lies perhaps the outfielder with the most potential, 23-year-old Jason Heyward.

Breaking into the majors at 20 years old (just like both Uptons) and hitting a home run on the third pitch he saw in major league action against Carlos Zambrano, Heyward would go unto finish second in MVP voting in 2010 (behind Buster Posey) and following an injury-riddled 2011 with a barking shoulder and underwhelming .227/.319/.389 line, the now 23-year-old Heyward rebounded in 2012 for 27 home runs, 82 RBI and a .269/.335/.479 line with an .814 OPS.  Take a look as to what MLB.com had to say about Heyward’s potential back in 2010, the year in which he was their no. 1 prospect:

There’s little Heyward can’t do. He’s got great bat speed, with the ability to hit for average and power. He has an excellent knowledge of the strike zone. He’s got a plus arm from the outfield, runs well and is an excellent base-runner. His makeup is off the charts. Oh, and he’s only 20. The only small knock has been a little bit of an injury history.

Heyward saw his base-running improve this year, swiping 21 bags and was also a defensive wizard, winning a Gold Glove last year.  If B.J. Upton could improve his OBP just a bit, it’s conceivable to believe all outfielders could post an OPS over .800, combining for anywhere between 90-100 home runs and 250-300 RBI.  Again, the key here is potential, which is exactly what drove Frank Wren to complete this deal.  It’s safe to say the Atlanta Braves have one of the best outfield in all of baseball, and in a game where run differential is key, defense will be a huge factor in what is likely to shape up to be another dogfight with the Washington Nationals in the National League East.

For the Upton brothers, it’s a dream come true, who already experienced theater in 2012, both hitting their 100th career home run on the same day.  Next step is the World Series.

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One Response to Get Ready for Super Upton Bros. in Atlanta

  1. Pingback: Sizing Up the National League East « Front Office Sports

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