Atlanta Braves: Justin Upton Flashing MVP Form In Spring

By Thom Tsang
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I know — making a statement that a baseball player looks like an early MVP candidate in Spring Training is going to seem like a blind shot in the dark, and requires a whole lot of faith to take seriously.

… but, guys like Justin Upton makes it easy to believe, don’t they?

After all, this is a player that was destined for superstardom last year in his age-24 season, after coming off a fantastic .898 OPS, 6.4 fWAR breakout in 2011 — and that was already his second season where the outfielder finished with a near .900 OPS.

Shoulder problems cut into his meteoric rise in 2012, but even then, Upton was still nearly a 20/20 player with a 108 wRC+, which is pretty good for a down year.

For some silly reason, that was enough for the Arizona Diamondbacks to pull their trigger on a trade (that they had been trying to make for two years) to send their young star to Atlanta Braves in the past off-season.

There are a lot of angles to look at how he’s doing there, but whether you’re going by spring numbers, or the on-paper talent, or the one-good-year-one-down-year pattern that J-Up has shown over the last few seasons, there’s really only one reasonable conclusion.

Upton is going to have a huge year in 2013.

If you happen to like Spring Training results, there’s a lot to like about what Upton has done thus far. The Braves’ left fielder has 14 hits over 48 at-bats thus far, including a pair of monstrous homers on Tuesday’s Cactus League game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

That added to his total of four long balls thus far, and while there’s little doubt that the younger of the Upton brothers has power to spare, the fact that he looks to be past his shoulder problems these days has to be a reassuring fact to the Braves offense next season.

No, his 14 strikeouts doesn’t exactly make you think he’s going to stop being a free-swinger in 2013, but the five walks is around where his regular season rate is, suggesting that he’s not totally lost and whiffing at everything.

As for the speed department? Upton has stolen just a single base thus far, but speed has never really been a problem with him, and he’s hasn’t swiped more than a couple of bases in each of his last two seasons.

The important thing here is that the 25-year old has his health — there’s natural upper-deck power in his bat each time he swings, and his power display this spring (compared to zero homers in 2012) could probably be looked at as a positive sign of things to come, given the context of his arrival.

J-Up went into last season as an on-paper MVP favourite. He might have skipped a year, but with a full return to health and a change of scenery, there’s little reason to believe he can’t get there in 2013.

I mean, the talent is there, and he’d already come pretty close at 23-years old (fourth in voting). What’s there not to believe?

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