B.J. Upton (162-game pace: 88 runs, 24 HRs, 95 RBIs, 25 SBs)
In 2003, Bossman Junior was the 21st ranked prospect in all the land. Before the 2004 season, he rose up to the number two position (behind Joe Mauer). By the end of that season, Upton had played 69 games at AAA, posting a .311/.411/.519 line. In 2005, he provided similar – albeit slightly lower – numbers at the same level (.303/.392/.490).
Clearly, the Devil Rays were intrigued. In 2006, the parent club promoted Upton for a limited audition. Over 50 games, and 189 plate appearances, he posted an inauspicious .246/.302/.291.
Nevertheless, the following season, at just 22, the Devil Rays gave Upton a shot at a full-time job. In 548 major league plate appearances, he flashed an incredible amount of promise: .300/.386/.508. There were, however, underlying concerns – he had a ridiculous K-rate (32.5%) and Austin Jackson-like BABIP: .395. Still, the isolated power (.209) and 22 stolen bases were nice. (Isolated power “measures how good a player is at hitting for extra bases.”)
Unfortunately, the Devil Rays became just the Rays following that season and Upton lost his deal with the devil that made all those batted balls become hits. Oh, and he had that injury thing.
While Upton only hit nine home runs during the 2008 season, he did post an impressive .383 OBP, which allowed him to steal 44 bases. He also briefly became a friend of the devil in the postseason, smacking seven dingers.
Fantasy players hoped and séanced that 2009 would be the year Upton reached his 30HR/40 steal potential. He was healthy after all, and the memory of his 24 bombs in 2007 was still fairly fresh. Unfortunately, these hopes were unfulfilled. Instead, 2009 provided more of the same for Upton, as his batting average spiraled further downward and he mustered just 11 homers.
At this point, it looked like Upton was who he was – a light hitting, strike-out machine who could swipe some bases. Then, something magical happened. In 2010, he raised his HR/FB rate above 7.4% and into double digits (11%) for the first time since 2007. He also started hitting a few more fly balls, which contributed to his isolated power “spiking” to .187.
Sure, the .237 average left a lot to be desired. But, the signs for improvement were there. Notably, he had cut down on his ground balls in a major way.
In 2011, B.J. Upton is going to be a great fantasy contributor. He is swinging and missing less, striking out less and making way more contact. He has continued to hit fewer ground balls, and, instead, is hitting sound line drives and fly balls. He has also increased his HR/FB rate.
When all is said in done, Upton will hit 25 HRs, steal 40 bases and post a .255/.345/.440 slash line. Forget 2008-2010, 2011 is the season…
Justin Smoak (162-game pace: 47 runs, 22 HRs, 94 RBIs)
If anyone has ever watched Buck Martinez call a game, you’ll know that the sweetest thing your ears ever heard was the distinction and diction with which Martinez says Smoak.
Smoak was a top 25 prospect from 2009-2010. It’s safe to say he crushed a lot in the minors. For years, keeper league owners deliriously drooled over his potential returns in a potent Rangers lineup and the bandbox in Arlington. Unfortunately, Smoak failed to meet those expectations before heading northwest in exchange for Cliff Lee. Over 375 plate appearances for the Rangers, Smoak went .209/.316/.353 with eight homers.
Like the habitual Seattle rain, the Mariners’ ballpark does its best to dampen run production. Outside of San Diego, this was seemingly the worst place for Smoak to land. In 122 plate appearances with the Mariners last season, he went .239/.287/.407 with five homers. His underlying numbers showed some promise, though they did not indicate an immediate turnaround. Smoak finished with a 26.1% k-rate, .255 BABIP, and 77.3% contact rate. As you can see, his power improved somewhat, but not much else.
Heading into 2011, it didn’t appear that Smoak would reach his promise anytime soon. Indeed, it was entirely possible that the 24-year-old’s development was set back years by his 2010 season and subsequent trade. Smoak must not have been listening to the critics, however. Rather than continue his pedestrian 2010, he came out of spring training gunning. In his first 147 plate appearances, Smoak has a .271/.376/.486 line and six homers.
Clearly he just needed a little adjustment time, right? Wrong.
To date, the Mariner’s first baseman has a .327 BABIP, which just doesn’t jive with the .255 average he had last year, especially when you look under the hood. Smoak has a 13.5% line drive rate (it was 23.1% last year). He has a 37.5% fly ball rate (similar to last season), yet he has a 15.4% HR/FB rate which is a bit higher than in 2010. The scariest thing about Smoak is his 49% ground ball rate. A guy hitting that many balls on the ground is not an elite power or average source.
While his K-rate is slightly down, he is swinging and missing more. He is also making less contact this year than last year.
I’m not optimistic Smoak will continue to have anything like the success he has so far. If he bats over .250, I’ll be shocked. If he hits more than 10 more homers the rest of the way, I’ll be confused. In short, this is the best stretch he’ll have all season. If I owned him, I’d be selling in every league imaginable, including keeper leagues.