Detroit Tigers Player Preview: Justin Upton
No, he’s not the love child between Justin Verlander and Kate Upton. He’s just Justin Upton – the new left fielder bringing his big bat and defensive speed to the 2016 Detroit Tigers lineup. He is also the first player featured in our newest Motor City Bengals series of player previews.
Justin Upton has been a life-long National League hitter, playing with the Arizona D-Backs, Atlanta Braves, and the San Diego Padres. Because of this, he has not been a player to know for many Detroit Tigers fans. When his signing was announced in late January, there were several reasons why the media and players were excited.
One of the most excited members of the media was Kirk Gibson and he had every reason to be. He managed J-Up for several years with the D-Backs, including 2011 when Gibby was named Manager of the Year. That same year, Upton finished fourth in the NL MVP vote, earned an All-Star invitation, and a Silver Slugger award. Gibson said about the 6’3 right-handed left fielder joining the Tigers: “He makes us a much better team. I’m excited to cover him.”
Justin Upton has been playing baseball since he was a young child. His brother is Melvin Upton, who played alongside Justin in Atlanta and San Diego. Upton’s father is Manny, who also played baseball in college and then became a scout and coach. The Uptons are from Chesapeake, Virginia.
Upton was signed right out of high school in 2005 by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was the very first pick in 2005. He made his MLB debut in 2007 at the age of 19. (Miguel Cabrera debuted with the Florida Marlins at age 20). He played in 43 games that year and has not looked back. In his first season in the MLB, he hit 2 home runs. Two years later, he hit 26, which is the same amount he hit in 2015 with the Padres.
Through most of the offseason, the focus was on the Tigers filling the pitching rotation and stocking the bullpen. Many hoped they would sign a left fielder; Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon‘s names continued to pop up. Upton was not on the media’s radar at all, which made his signing all the more interesting.
The reason Upton is so exciting is the fact that he is a perfectionist and he can play. Even as a high schooler, he was hitting home runs, beating the throws, and reaching the bases on unlikely hits. Compared to the other left fielders on the 2015 free-agent market, Upton had the highest WAR (3.6) and the most home runs (26). He also had the highest percentage of strikeouts minus walks (14.9%). But, this comes with power hitting. The Tigers know this and they are looking forward to seeing his perfection and power come into play. The Tigers have the hitting staff to help the 28-year-old player work on his patience.
Upton has been to the All-Star Game three times, including last season. He has also earned votes in the MVP race three times. And he is a two-time Silver Slugger award winner. He has plenty of raw talent that the Tigers can work with and he knows how to work with expectations. He told Anthony Fenech with The Detroit Free Press: “To me, it’s more about tempering and being smarter about expectations. I think trying to be perfect, being a perfectionist, that was more of a burden than the expectations.”
Next: Detroit Tigers: Best Team in Years?
Along with being a new member of the Detroit Tigers, Upton is a brand new dad. He and his wife Ashley have a baby girl they named Sydnee. She was born in early January 2016.