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ATLANTA BRAVES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed OF-R B.J. Upton to a five-year deal worth $75 million. [11/28]

No free agent receives more credit for his remaining upside than Upton does. Because of Upton’s athleticism and rare blend of power and speed, there are those who believe his best is yet to come. What is lost during those reveries is the fact that Upton is already a solid player, one capable of helping a competitive team win ballgames. The player’s future is a point of emphasis with any long-term contract. That’s why Upton might be the most polarizing player to sign so far this winter.

While Upton does have great physical gifts, leading to possible upside, there is potential downside to be found here as well. It sounds cliché, but while Upton has good-to-great tools, his baseball skills could use additional seasoning. The 28-year-old took steps toward sharpening those skills last season. He cut down on boneheaded plays, like throwing to the wrong base, in the field, yet he remains a work in progress in other areas. For example, the Rays had him go on the pitcher’s first move, rationalizing that it would take two good throws instead of one to nail Upton. While the instruction has paid off with good success rates, it also leaves Upton’s future as an efficient base stealer in doubt once his explosiveness wanes.

The rawness is noticeable at the plate as well. Upton flashes power and grace, but is susceptible to incompetence. His pitch recognition and bat-to-ball skills are suspect. There will be at-bats where Upton swings through a breaking ball early in the count before taking a fastball over the plate for strike three. Of course, there will be at-bats where Upton flashes great bat speed and winds up at third base on a triple.

Upton has tweaked his approach and stance more times than one can count, and you’re never certain if he’ll go to the plate disciplined and willing to walk, or aggressive and willing to chase. A strikeout is only marginally worse than any other brand of out, but those players with contact woes are worrisome over the long haul. If Upton is whiffing on nearly one-third of his swings now, when his physical abilities are at their finest, then how often will he whiff when his abilities begin to fade?

Any conversation about Upton is bound to include reference to motivational concerns. With a past that includes benching and a dugout confrontation over hustle-related incidents, it’s easy to think of Upton as a malcontent. But to Upton’s credit, those issues seem to be in the past. It proves difficult to watch Upton’s display of emotion during his final game with the Rays and walk away believing he is uncaring about the game. That attitude will suit him well heading forward, because his athletic tools and baseball skills are in a race to counterbalance.

The Braves will forfeit their first-round pick in exchange for signing Upton. The Rays, Upton’s old team, will receive a compensatory selection. 

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mwright
11/29
Thank you Ruben Amaro for not outbidding the Braves. Now let's hope you are not going to desperately offer a similar contract to Bourn.
Behemoth
11/29
You think the right approach with a win now team like the Phillies is to pass on acquiring a good CF, at what is, by free agency standards, a reasonable price?
HalfStreet
11/29
Even if Upton turns out to be great for the Braves, right now I am just relieved that Mike Rizzo didn't act on his man-crush and bring him to the Nats. I am just not impressed. I would be much happier with Bourn, or to simply sign Adam LaRoche and spend the money on one more quality pitcher.

+1/2St.
fflakes41
11/29
Do the Braved also lose the slot money for their first round pick, or is their draft pool of funds unaffected by this signing?
edman8585
11/29
They lose the slot money.
Tarakas
11/29
28-year olds "with upside" are worrying, because they also can be labeled "28-year players who, unlike most players at that age, have failed to fully develop."

Lauding 28-year old players for upside is, in other words, celebrating players for what they are failing to do. I can see the lure of upside, but there can be a danger in getting excited about lack of success. For example, what if whatever has made Upton not properly develop also makes his aging curve worse?

Nice write up.
randolph3030
11/29
Interesting point about the aging curve...I wonder if there is a way to study that? Maybe using BA's Top 100 prospects lists, cross-checking them against Career WAR to 28 or 29 then judging aging curve? But, you'd have to account for the "unfulfilled" criteria somehow...hmm...

jdeich
11/29
It's similar to my favorite argument against "clutch": If a player had the ability to will himself to play better in big situations, shouldn't he be willing himself to play better every day?

Upton is a healthy (144+ G every full MLB season so far) 28-year-old who should be at his physical peak. Describing him as an "upside" guy means there's something in his mental/psychological makeup (coaching, brains, attitude) that is deficient but fixable. This just raises the question: If it's fixable, why didn't anyone fix it previously?

One hypothesis is that moving him out of Tampa into a new environment would spur the 'fix', but in general Tampa has an excellent reputation for player development. Atlanta has had mixed results of late developing young hitters.
Taldan9
11/29
Of maybe he is "late maturing", like me(@ 58, however, not 28!)
WaldoInSC
11/30
You're only young once but you can be immature your whole life!
Robotey
11/30
Good point. How much can hitters actually change their approach? Looking at Upton or Hamilton, do we honestly believe they'll start taking more piches? Likely not. They'll make highlights at the plate and maybe in the field, but they'll make lots of outs too. If a player hasn't shown plate discipline by 28, don't expect it to start now.