A large number of No. 1 draft picks never really live up to the hype. Whether due to the pressure of being under the spotlight, being aggressively promoted from the minor leagues too early, or simply not being able to transfer the skill set from amateurs to the paid ranks, there are numerous reasons.
Justin Upton isn't one of those players.
Since hitting the big leagues in 2007, the new Detroit Tigers left fielder has been nothing if not consistent. He didn't spend a great deal of time down on the farm himself, comparatively speaking, amassing only 957 plate appearances before Arizona decided to call him up. Save for a couple of brief spells, he stuck, and has been a fixture in the outfields of the Diamondbacks, Braves, and Padres ever since.
If there's one thing Justin Upton cannot be accused of since reaching The Show, it's certainly not being able to show the staying power required. In every year since, his production has been above league average by wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created+, where 100 is average) and he's continually displayed the power and on-base abilities that singled him out as a blue chip prospect from a young age. Just how solid have his numbers stayed?
This equates to an average output of his eight full seasons of 23.5 HR, an .829 OPS, 122 wRC+ and 3.4 WAR. If he continues to put up at or around those kind of numbers in his six years in Detroit (assuming no opt-out), he will have proven more than worth all the dollars owner Mike Ilitch is happy to pay him.
An all-field hitter
Many sluggers of Upton's nature are, by and large, more pull hitters than anything else. It's simple human physics in many ways; it's simply easier to generate more power when pulling a ball than pushing it. The more rounded hitter does both. The more rounded hitter with power is even rarer, but Justin Upton is that rarity; a power bat with an opposite field ability.
Miguel Cabrera is known for all-field power, yet a quick glance at the home run landing spots for both since 2008 show a remarkable similarity. No one in their right mind would seek to suggest that Justin Upton is on the same hitting planet as Cabrera, but he does share at least some of his ability to knock the ball out of the yard to center and right field as well as over the left field fence.
Patience, dear boy
One of the traditional pitfalls of a big bopper is that often with lots of home runs come lots of strikeouts, one of the most obvious perpetrators of this crime being somebody our resident mob boss GM Al Avila thankfully steered ownership away from, Chris Davis. Justin Upton bucks the trend nicely in this regard, because as well as being able to consistently crank the big fly, he's also always shown a very nice ability to mix in plenty of free passes to aid his above average on-base ability.
The owner of a career .352 on-base percentage, Upton has combined the art of hitting balls hard with the finesse of leaving alone what can't be clobbered. True, he has shown a penchant for the strikeout in his career too, but when you can take a walk at a good clip to boot, it becomes forgivable. One area of his plate discipline in which his numbers have improved recently is his O-Swing percentage (the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone); his 2015 mark of 24 percent being his lowest return since 2010. Chasing less pitches, ergo more walks, ergo, in theory, more swings at pitches that can truly be spanked.
Where does he crush 'em?
Interestingly, despite Upton's propensity to hit the long ball to all parts like Cabrera, his hot zone data shows quite a significant difference in the areas in which he connects hardest. Cabrera is a well known low ball murderer, yet the zones in which Upton compiles his highest exit velocities are middle, middle up and high and away, with high and tight and low and away being the obvious candidates of where the pitcher should attack him.
The total package?
Justin Upton has a lot of nice tools, and while we have to be honest and say he's not in the Mike Trout/Bryce Harper class of elite outfielders, what he does offer is a very rounded output.
It's been said he's not a great defender, yet he owns career marks in DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) of +19 and +0.5 respectively, so while this isn't Kevin Kiermaier out there, he can be relied upon to more than hold his own. Sure, his career batting average of .271 may not set the traditionalists on fire, but as we have discussed, the solid OBP skills help alleviate this to a large degree.
The package may not be complete, but it is strong. There's power, a little speed too (115 career stolen bases), a discerning eye, consistency, and, relative youth.
At only 28, Upton is likely to spend the majority of his prime years donning a Tiger uniform. If he can continue to produce what he's shown he is already capable of, it won't be long before the Cuban with the cannon arm is long, long forgotten.