Justin Upton Carrying Arizona Diamondbacks
The 23-Year-Old Phenom Might Have Carried Team Past Their June Swoon
By Bob Goodwood
Modern Times Magazine .com
June 21, 2011 — With great potential comes great expectations, and many of those expectations had been unmet so far in Justin Upton’s young career.
But how realistic is it that a man under 23 could be the one of the best players in the game? Mickey Mantle was really good at that age but he was also playing on a World Series Championship team.
But that is what critics wanted from him and while he was really good since making his debut he was not great — yet. Now, he is hitting his prime and if the progress he has made so far in 2011 is any indication, he might just be the dominant force everyone has expected him to be.
Sure, he was named player of the week after hitting .552 with 16 hits and seven runs-batted-in, including one walk-off home run and four doubles. That’s a nice week. But over the month of June, Upton is batting .400 with 15 RBIs, three home runs, nine doubles and two triples.
Critics might point out that it is only 30 days. After all, he did start the season slowly, with a .272 average a mere 10 games ago. But what critics might be failing to remember is that without Upton, the Diamondbacks might have succumbed to a June Swoon.
On May 20, 2011, the Arizona Diamondbacks were a half game ahead of the San Francisco Giants with a 30-24 record. As of today, they are a half game behind the Giants with a 39-34 record. The math works out to a 9-10 record over their last 19 games. During this span, Justin Upton has been on fire. Without his hot bat — including two game winning hits during that span — they might be even further down in the standings.
Obviously, some other guys will get hot and hopefully when Justin cools off it is just a ‘little bit’ because the Diamondbacks might just pummel the rest of the National League if that ever happens.
What the Diamondbacks need right now is an infusion of energy. One shoe dropped Sunday when the team announced that Sean Burroughs had been out-righted to the Triple A Reno Sidewinders. Speculation is that one of the big bats from the minors will be called up to take his spot on the roster and either of the two leading candidates — Wily Mo Pena and Paul Goldschmidt — will definitely be a healthy shot in the arm.
Pena is the logical choice. He is a big bat who can hit big home runs and at the least, he will literally put a charge into batting practice. They would be wise to close the panels during batting practice when Pena is at Chase Field. Even if he only has the roster spot for the upcoming run through American League ballparks in Kansas City and Detroit, he will have an impact. He hit .363 with 21 home runs and 63 runs batted in at Reno. He even has increased his plate discipline since his days with the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox and gets on base at a .439 clip.
In the field, he is a downgrade from Gerardo Parra and Willie Bloomquist, but Pena has the kind of bat that would provide some serious protection for the rest of the lineup — especially Upton — that might make the difference swinging into the All-Star break.
Goldschmidt, who already is a cult hero in Phoenix, is still raking but Pena is the logical move here.
But the Tuesday call-up won’t be the only move the Diamondbacks make to infuse the team through the doldrums of July and August. Throughout the early part of the season, team management made it clear that if the team is in the hunt by the break, a move would be likely that would increase payroll and add some experienced, proven arms. No one wants to see them trade any of the young arms or big bats to get those arms, though, and rightly so.
More likely is that Towers will try to make a veteran for veteran swap with Kelly Johnson, Pena and Juan Miranda possible trade pieces.
Either way, with Upton taking the next step, the Diamondbacks might truly be a piece or two short from serious contention.
Bob Goodwood is a freelance writer currently living in Scottsdale, Ariz.