B.J. Upton was an asset to fantasy baseball owners during most of his time with the Tampa Bay Rays, with more than 20 home runs in a season three times from 2007-2012 and at least 22 stolen bases in all six seasons (31 or more five times, more than 40 three times). After hitting .300 in 2007 and .273 in 2008 his batting average has not topped .250 in a season since, but with solid three-category production (home runs, RBI and steals) and great durability (over 600 plate appearances each season from 2008-2012) most fantasy owners could not find too much fault with the elder Upton.
Upton signed with the Atlanta Braves prior to last season, joining his brother Justin in the Atlanta outfield, but he never really recovered from a slow start (.143 batting average in April) and finished with a slash-line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) of .184/.268/.289 with nine home runs, 26 RBI and 12 stolen bases over 446 plate appearances.
What can fantasy owners expect from Upton in 2014?
Upton’s struck out on nearly 34 percent (33.9) of his plate appearances last year, and adding that to an exorbitant amount of infield fly balls (19.3 percent of his total fly balls hit) that helped drive his BABIP down to a career-low .266 you get the dismal results he had. Simple correction back toward his career levels in those categories (26 percent strikeout rate, 9.1 percent infield fly ball percentage and a .317 BABIP) would yield better production his year, and improvement in his overall contact rate (61.4 percent in 2013; 70.4 percent for his career) can only help.
As long as he’s healthy Upton will still be in the lineup regularly with the amount of money the Braves have invested in him, but he may lose playing time to Jordan Schafer after striking out 115 times in 283 at-bats against right-handed pitchers last year. It’s hard to envision a full-fledged 50/50 platoon even in a worst-case scenario, so Upton should see 400-450 at-bats this year even if he sits regularly when the Braves face a tough right-handed starter.
Upton has nowhere to go but up across the board after last season, but it’s a stretch to call him a potential value pick in fantasy drafts this spring. He is best regarded as a bench outfielder in NL-only and deep mixed leagues, where any sustained contribution he offers can be considered a nice bonus and perhaps make him a trade chip for fantasy owners that are able to stockpile outfield depth.
Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.