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OC Register: Angels’ Justin Upton looks for bounceback season


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TEMPE, Ariz. — For all of Justin Upton’s career, he’s been that guy, a hitter expected to carry much of the offensive burden in the middle of the lineup.

In this newly stacked Angels lineup, he may often find himself batting fifth, behind some combination of Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani.

“We’ve got some big dogs,” Upton said. “I love being in this lineup. I’ll be the guy that nobody’s worried about, which is fun.”

Upton, 32, has arrived at spring training in a condition that has opened eyes around camp. General manager Billy Eppler said he looked like a boxer.

“Everybody that’s seen him more than I have in the past has been commenting on how good he looks and how well he’s moving,” Manager Joe Maddon said.

Upton says his weight is the same, but he’s leaner and stronger because he had an injury-free, rehab-free winter.

“I was just able to work out like I normally do,” he said.

Upton said he had a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right knee just after the 2018 season. And midway through that winter, his knee began bothering him again. It lingered into March, costing Upton nearly the entire spring in 2019.

He had played just a few exhibition games before spraining his toe while running toward the fence in on the Freeway Series exhibitions against the Dodgers.

That injury kept him out until June.

Upton returned for what would be a disappointing 63 games. He hit .215 with 12 homers and a .724 OPS. It was his lowest OPS since he broke in as a 19-year-old.

“I had never gone that long without, you know being on a baseball field,” Upton said. “So yeah, that definitely had some effect. … I just never got locked in. Most of my day was preparing my body rather than actually doing baseball stuff.”

In September, Upton shut it down to have a second PRP injection in 12 months. He had the injection with a couple weeks to go in the season, so by the middle of October he was able to work out without restrictions, just as he would be in a normal offseason.

Now, he is planning to rebound to performing as he had in the past.

“My expectation is to play 150 games,” Upton said. “I want to be in the field. I know when I’m out there in the past I’ve performed at a high level, so that’s what I expect of myself.”

Upton entered the 2019 season with a career OPS of .824, along with an average of 29 homers per 162 games. He is one of just 36 active players who has produced at least five seasons with a WAR of 3.5 or better, according to Baseball-Reference.

Part of that value earlier in his career was his defense, which he admits also slipped below his expectations last year. He says it was also because the knee and foot troubles limited his mobility.

“The last time I was 100 percent healthy, I played above average defense,” he said. “I think I’ll be fine without the knee barking, without the foot. I’ll be back to myself out there.”

If the Angels can add a player of the caliber that Upton has been, it would be a “huge,” boost, according to Maddon.

“You’ve seen the bat in the past,” Maddon said. “He can really carry teams for stretches. He may have tended to be a little on the streaky side in the past, but when he gets hot, he gets hot as anybody. We’ll see if we can keep him hot on a more consistent basis. But I’ve seen him carry groups.”

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4 minutes ago, Dochalo said:

5 players played 162 games last year.  

I think it's called being realistic.  

Still an odd thing to say IMO. Anyway, this board is pretty much all unicorns and fairy dust anyway when it comes to Angels predictions and players so me wanting Upton to play all 162 is par the course.

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1 minute ago, beatlesrule said:

Still an odd thing to say IMO. Anyway, this board is pretty much all unicorns and fairy dust anyway when it comes to Angels predictions and players so me wanting Upton to play all 162 is par the course.

No, it’s an odd thing to focus on in an article about your favorite team.  

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17 minutes ago, beatlesrule said:

Still an odd thing to say IMO. Anyway, this board is pretty much all unicorns and fairy dust anyway when it comes to Angels predictions and players so me wanting Upton to play all 162 is par the course.

He played 159 games as a 23 year old and then played between 145-154 for the next 7 seasons before playing 63 last year. It would be unrealistic to think he’d play 162 in his age 32 season. It’s less than a day off every 2 weeks. For a guy with 2 PRP injections within the last 18 months, him playing 150-155 would be great. Letting a combination of Fletcher, La Stella, Goodwin, Rengifo, and Adell play 12 more games so Upton stays fresh and healthy (as a 32 year old) isn’t going to ruin the season.

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23 minutes ago, beatlesrule said:

Still an odd thing to say IMO. Anyway, this board is pretty much all unicorns and fairy dust anyway when it comes to Angels predictions and players so me wanting Upton to play all 162 is par the course.

you're right.  it's all positive all the time around this place.  

very perceptive.  

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Upton and Pujols can realistically provide enough of an internal  upgrade. Addition without subtraction from the same players. 

Playing hurt is a major handicap. No matter how game a guy is he won't be at his best. Some handle it better than others, but you still aren't going to get their best over a long stretch of games. 

If Pujols is as healthy as Maddon thinks he is he could modestly increase his production. With roughly the same number of plate appearances he could raise his average about five to ten points and still hit 20 plus homeruns and 90 plus RBIs. And more walks, less k's.

He was clearly uncomfortable at the plate in recent years, and his swing was compromised to compensate for lack of flexibility and reach. His lower body was was just an anchor and he depended on upper body and arm strength. He also chased pitches he would have laid off because they were closer to his limited comfort zone. 

Even assuming he is even just slightly more mobile, it may be more important if he feels pain free. Without compensating for physical discomfort he can be more selective and less self conscious of his limitations. He is 40, so no miracles expected, but with this lineup he plays more of a supportive role. And likely more men on base to drive in. His strength.

Upton hasn't shown serious decline yet, and should have a bounce back year around his career norm. Last year was one of those random seasons that happen to athletes. Not a chronic long term problem. 

Rendon really is the master key to having a serious slugger's row kind of offense. With power and on base ability he will either drive in runs or set the table for the bats behind him. Both ways he will be a second engine along with Trout. Often on base, often clearing the bases.

Fletcher will get on base one way or another. Trout will be Trout. Ohtani as a hitter should hit 15 - 20 homers and hit 275 plus. Maybe better, depending on overall workload. And if he takes on a bigger pitching role there is plenty of depth. Simmons should be improved in a contract year. Right field should combine for 20 plus homers between Goodwin, La Stella, Adell. Catcher has been upgraded by default somewhat. Rengilfo will have his opportunities. 

Pujols and Upton are veteran big bats with great past production. Both have been hurt. Both seem healthy. No reason to think negatively. Together they are experienced enough to handle important situational at bats. 

Maddon should also give them a sense of renewal. He knows their past, has confidence in them and will devise his lineups accordingly.

I can't wait to see the regular season lineup in action. Pitching has to be better by default. The manager is better. The hitters are healthy and Rendon is an enormous addition. And if Adell eventually thrives, no reason this team is not in the playoffs.

 

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