Justin Upton & 4 MLB Sluggers Who Need to Start Making More Contact

Shaun ChurchContributor IJuly 18, 2012

Justin Upton & 4 MLB Sluggers Who Need to Start Making More Contact

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    Five MLB sluggers—including Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks—have had a particularly rough 2012 season. If they don’t start making more contact soon, they may find themselves on the bench or worse: on the trading block.

    Now, not every player listed here will be involved in trade rumors; some simply need to get it going to help their respective team compete for a run at October baseball.

    Either way, every player you’re about to see has stunk it up this season. They need to turn it around and start playing as they are capable.

Mike Napoli, C/1B, Texas Rangers

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    Mike Napoli's spot on the Texas Rangers 25-man roster is not in question.

    However, he does need to help his club more than he has this season. He is batting just .227 with 12 HR and 31 RBI through the Rangers first 90 games.

    The funny thing is, at this point last season, Napoli’s numbers were nearly identical to those above. He had a .237 BA with 12 HR and 33 RBI through Texas’ first 90 (July 8).

    How did he finish?

    In the team’s final 72 games, Napoli hit .378 with 18 HR and 42 RBI, and Texas held off the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to clinch the AL West title.

    Napoli was a big part of the offense that won the American League pennant, playing in 113 regular season games and finishing with a .320 BA, 30 HR and 75 RBI.

    If he does the same this summer, the Rangers will be on their way to the postseason once again.

    Last postseason, Napoli hit .328 with 3 HR and 15 RBI in 17 games.

Hanley Ramirez, 3B, Miami Marlins

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    The 2012 season has been a struggle for Hanley Ramirez and the Miami Marlins.

    A lot has changed.

    New uniforms, new team forename, new stadium, new manager and for Ramirez, a new position on the field.

    He moved from shortstop to third base to accommodate free-agent SS Jose Reyes, who signed a six-year, $106 million contract.

    As a career .301 hitter, it is odd to see his .249 average. He has become, well, average.

    He was supposed to be the heart of an offense that was going to dominate pitching staff after pitching staff. Instead, he finds himself on the wrong end of trade talk. The Boston Red Sox—his original team—have inquired about a trade involving Ramirez (via MLBTradeRumors). Though talks fizzled quickly, the fact that the Marlins are listening tells you how he’s struggled.

    If he doesn’t pick it up and help Miami win some games—they are 44-46 and 5.5 games out of a playoff spot—he may find himself playing for another franchise.

    Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an end to his struggles in sight. He is batting .218 over the last month and just .156 over the past two weeks.

Justin Upton, RF, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Justin Upton is the biggest name on the trading block this summer.

    He’s there because he has once again failed to live up to the hype of being a No. 1 overall pick and face-of-the-franchise.

    Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers almost traded Upton shortly after being hired by the D-backs during the fall of 2010, and talks are much the same this time around.

    For the season, Upton has a slash line of .274/.355/.394/.749, but he has just 7 HR and 38 RBI.

    He hasn’t hit a long ball since June 23. Since then, he has gone 21-for-71 (.296), with three doubles and eight RBI, so there is at least a sign that he might be breaking out of his season-long slump.

    But he has struggled to come through in the clutch all season, batting just .225 in “late and close” situations—or “Plate Appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck,” as defined by BaseballReference.com.

    There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, however.

    D-backs manager Kirk Gibson moved Upton from the three-hole—where he’s played 232 games since the start of last season—to the five-hole for the past two games, and he has responded by going 5-for-8 (.625) with an RBI and a walk. Second baseman Aaron Hill has replaced him as the No. 3 hitter for now.

    If the batting order switch can turn his season around, he may just avoid being traded before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The D-backs enter play Wednesday 6.5 games out of a wild card spot and could really use a hot bat right about now.

    Justin has carried the D-backs before. Can he do it again?

Mark Reynolds, 3B/1B, Baltimore Orioles

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    Mark Reynolds is MLB’s best current example of an all-or-nothing player.

    It seems on any given at-bat he will either hit the ball 450 feet or swing-and-miss three times.

    Reynolds set a major league record for strikeouts in a season two consecutive years while playing for the D-backs, striking out 204 times in 2008 and 223 times in 2009. But he also hit 62 home runs during that time and drove in 199 runs.

    The 2012 season has been a difficult one for Reynolds. He’s hitting just .209 with 8 HR and only 27 RBI. In 66 games, while playing third and first and serving as the DH, he has struck out 76 times.

    The Baltimore Orioles are in the thick of the AL wild card race, and if Reynolds can’t get on some kind of hot streak, he may be traded—if he’s lucky. He carries a $7.83 million salary this season, so the chances that a team is willing to take that on is slim.

    He’s just too high-risk, low-reward at this point in his career.

Dan Uggla, 2B, Atlanta Braves

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    Since the Atlanta Braves traded for Dan Uggla in 2010, he has hit 48 home runs and driven in 128 runs.

    Conversely, he has batted just .229 while striking out 257 times.

    There is no current rumor of an Uggla trade and there likely won’t be this year. But if he continues to struggle at the plate, the Braves will have a hard time competing against the Washington Nationals for the NL East.

    In 49 games since his batting average reached a season-high .283 on May 16, he is hitting a paltry .165 while striking out 57 times and compiling just a .342 slugging percentage.

    The Nationals have had the lowest team ERA all season, at 3.16 currently, and there is no reason to believe that will change; they will be at or near the top the rest of the way, and the Braves still face them 10 more times before the regular season draws to a close.

    Those games could be the difference between a division title and not making the playoffs at all (though Atlanta currently holds one of two wild card spots). Uggla is a streaky hitter, and he is very capable of going on a tear.

    If Uggla cannot straighten out his problems at the dish, the Braves could have a hard time reaching the postseason in Chipper Jones’ final season before he starts collecting retirement. With so many teams in the hunt for late October—there are eight teams within 6.5 games of a wild card spot—it is important that everyone in Atlanta’s lineup be at their best game-in and game-out.

    With how badly Uggla has been doing for two-plus months, he is surely due for a turnaround. Right?