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The still 24-year-old managed to do what his brother, BJ, was expected to do years ago: become a breakout MVP candidate. And with MVP numbers comes fantasy value.
After starting very early at 19, Upton only took two years in the majors to become an All-Star and fringe MVP candidate, hitting .300 in 2009, slugging at an impressive clip (.532, 30 2Bs, seven 3B, 20 HRs), just missing .900 OPS (he ended up with .899) while stealing 20 bases in 25 attempts (80 percent).
And though the numbers dipped a bit here and there in 2010, Upton had arguably the best season of his career in 2011, both numbers wise and as a franchise cornerstone, leading the DBacks to 94 wins and a division title.
His fantasy value seems to be on the rise: He plays almost everyday (he played 159 of 164 games last year) and will turn 25 in the middle of the 2012 season. And his numbers, from year to year, are either coming in at a consistent pace or rising exponentially.
While Upton's batting average was "just" .289 last year (second best in his career), he had career marks in hits (171, 12 higher then his previous best), doubles (39, plus-nine), home runs (31, plus-five), RBI (88, plus-two), stolen bases (21, plus-one) and total bases (313, plus-33). And he virtually matched his OPS from 2009 with .898 while bringing his Ks, one of his biggest problems, down from 152 in 2010 to 126 (almost a career best).
But most impressive, besides getting fourth place in MVP voting and making a second All-Star appearance, is the "feeling" of Upton. Living here in Arizona, Upton seems to be maturing at a breakneck pace and crowds don't get frustrated with "what could be," like Tampa fans do with BJ, but put their faith on Upton's back. And I don't think that kind of pressure will break Justin when he enters 2012.
Part of fantasy sports is taking a gamble. Justin did go down a bit in 2010 after an amazing 2009, but for those who watch closely, his change has been literally like a switch. The guy who would glumly run for foul balls and barely hustle to first when clearly out, Upton began to show determination and heart, hustling no matter what and making sure every out was well earned.
And, more importantly, especially for fantasy owners, he had the numbers to back up that determination and heart. I can't see a let down here; he is the surest thing from the DBacks roster for a fantasy spot.
Fantasy Plus: Average, slugging, hitting (all levels, singles through homers), stolen bases, on-base percentage, OPB
Fantasy Minus: strikes, BBs, errors (Upton had a career-worst 13 errors in 2011).
Outfield Ranking: Seventh. I can't say I'd pick Upton over Matt Kemp, Jose Bautista, Josh Hamilton, Curtis Granderson, Ryan Braun (depending on the suspension) or Jacoby Ellsbury, but I can make an argument that I'd pick him over Carlos Gonzalez, Hunter Pence, Nelson Cruz and Carlos Beltran.
Shortly after I made this ranking, I checked out ESPN's fantasy summit, and ESPN ranked Upton fifth.