The Braves had one of the better outfields in the National League last year, but after dealing for budding star Justin Upton, Atlanta can claim the title for best outfield in the NL.
Upton joins his brother B.J. and 23-year-old superstar Jason Heyward in Atlanta after the Braves were able to finalize a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday (via ESPN). Upton solidifies a lineup that will now feature a ton of speed and power from top to bottom.
Here’s a look at what the Braves lineup could look like next season:
1. Andrelton Simmons: SS
2. Jason Heyward: RF
3. Justin Upton: LF
4. Freddie Freeman: 1B
5. B.J. Upton: CF
6. Dan Uggla: 2B
7. Brain McCann: C
8. Juan Francisco: 3B
B.J. Upton could also step into the leadoff spot and shuffle the order around a bit, but any way you slice it, Atlanta’s lineup will be formidable in 2013.
The Braves didn’t give up a king’s ransom to land Upton, either. They did surrender Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and a trio of minor leaguers in the deal, but their return on investment was tremendous. They also managed to acquire Chris Johnson in the deal, who should see some time in a platoon role at third base (via ESPN).
The acquisition of Upton doesn’t just help the Braves offensively, either. As one National League executive phrased it, as quoted by ESPN’s Jayson Stark:
"It's a scout's dream. It's three five-tool players. That's what you've got in one outfield.”
Those five-tool players can do it all, and we’ll break down the play of each outfielder now.
The 25-year-old Upton has already been in the league six years, and in that span, he’s accounted for 108 home runs, 147 doubles, 28 triples and 80 stolen bases.
Upton’s best year came in 2011 when he hit 31 home runs, drove in 88 runs and hit .289 in 159 games. He didn’t have the power in 2012 that he displayed a year prior, but he still batted .280 and scored a career-high 107 runs.
Many teams are lacking consistent right-handed hitting, but that won’t be the case for the Braves this year. With both B.J. and Justin Upton splitting up a lineup that features a lot of good left-handed hitting, the Braves have versatility from both sides of the plate.
Upton is also very valuable defensively, and he’s only going to get better with so much talent around him. Even taking hitting out of the equation altogether, Atlanta still has one of the best outfields in baseball with the addition of Upton.
People knew about Heyward long before he ever made his major league debut. The 23-year-old was edged out by Buster Posey in 2010 Rookie of the Year voting, but he still put together a terrific season in which he hit .277 with 18 homers and 72 RBI.
Heyward endured a sophomore slump in 2011, but he rebounded to hit .269 with 27 homers and 82 RBI (both career bests). He also stole 21 bases and won a Gold Glove for his defensive play in right field.
Heyward has only scratched the surface of his talent. He has immeasurable upside, and with the Upton brothers potentially protecting him in the batting order, he could be in for a monster year in 2013. There’s almost no one in the lineup opposing hurlers can afford to pitch around.
Upton has the potential to hit 30 homers and drive in close to 100 runs in 2013. Despite his transition to the National League, protection in the batting order should prompt Upton to see a lot of good pitches this season.
In his last two years with Tampa Bay, Upton combined to hit 51 homers and drive in 159 runs. He also has some wheels. In his last five seasons, Upton has stolen at least 31 bases, including 44 in 2008.
While Upton has as much speed and power as anyone in Atlanta’s outfield, he doesn’t really hit for average. He’s a career .255 hitter, and hit .237, .243 and .246 in his last three seasons with the Rays.
Any shortcomings Upton may have at the plate, he more than makes up for patrolling center field. In his career in center field, Upton posted a .989 fielding percentage—37 points higher than at any other position he has played in his career. He has speed, range and a solid arm, and Atlanta fans shouldn’t expect much of a drop-off from Michael Bourn’s defensive play of a year ago.