Atlanta Braves’ B.J. Upton: 2014 Comeback Player of the Year?
Atlanta Braves centerfielder B.J. Upton just capped off the most unproductive season of his nine-year career. He set career lows in every major category and saw his role diminish into a situational pinch runner. His adjustment to National League pitching never materialized. However, there is no reason to doubt that he will not return to form next season.
There was not much positive the elder Upton could take away from the 2013 season. He struck out 151 times in just 126 games; almost 39 percent of his at-bats were capped with one. His batting average, stolen bases, and home runs all dipped tremendously as well. He watched as an outfield, one that was touted as the best defensively in the entire league, struggled to fill his void with a slower, less experienced Evan Gattis.
Upton has always been a bit of a streaky player. Unfortunately, this past season only saw him at his coldest. With a huge contract and no teams willing to take him on, the only hope in Atlanta is that he will figure out what went wrong. The thinking is that an entire offseason to adjust and tweak his swing will do just that. At his best, he can be the igniter the offense so desperately needs. Jason Heyward can slide back down in the lineup and if Upton can swipe more than 12 bases next season, the Braves can become more than the boom-or-bust slugging team that ultimately doomed their 2013 campaign.
With all of the issues the Braves have to address this season (what to do with Dan Uggla and Brian McCann the most pressing of them), they have to trust that Upton will be better prepared to be the leadoff man they anticipated he would be when he was offered a five-year $75 million deal last offseason. If he can become the player he was with the Tampa Bay Rays, there will be another National League East champion banner hanging in Turner Field.