Normally, a player starting his 15th season in the big leagues is considered on the decline.
But for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Justin Upton, a recent move up the batting order has served as a reminder of why he was selected with the first overall pick in the 2007 MLB Draft.
With his team struggling to stay in the playoff race without Mike Trout, Angels manager Joe Maddon decided to make a drastic move to spark his lethargic ball club. His decision was to move the power-hitting, four-time All-Star Upton into the leadoff spot.
With Upton now being protected by budding superstar Shohei Ohtani in the lineup, Justin has looked a lot like the three-time Silver Slugger winner the Angels traded for back in 2017.
Over his last 15 games, Justin has hit six bombs and driven in 11 while slashing an impressive .309/.424/.727. This offensive explosion from Upton is much needed with Trout still out with a calf injury, and his manager knows it.
“These guys have really come up big, and J-Up, even though he had just the one hit (a leadoff HR), you put up a point on the first swing and you can see what that does to the pitcher,” said Maddon to mlb.com during the start of Upton’s hot streak. “ He pitched relatively well after that, but give up five[runs in the first]. So again, J-up is doing his job. He got us going.”
The decision to move Upton has paid off significantly, as the Angels have won seven of their last ten ballgames. If Upton is able to continue his hot hitting, he may be rewarded with his fifth trip to the All-Star Game.
-11-5 on over 1 in L16 & at least 1 in 14 of 16 w/6 HR & 5 2B -Leading off for visiting team to maximize opps, decent matchup & AZ bullpen also not good -Small plus odds w/push chance – we take it pic.twitter.com/o46y06pend
“Right now, he’s at 14 home runs and 29 RBI on the year,” writes Evan Desani of halohangout.com. “If he continues to hit at the rate he has in these past 15 games, he’ll be at 25 home runs and 41 RBI by the time of the [All-Star] game.”
Numbers that impressive would surely be enough for an All-Star nod. But even without that recognition, Justin Upton’s success is important for the continued growth of the game in the Black community. Something that the Upton family has contributed to in historic fashion throughout the years.
Justin and his older brother, Melvin “B.J.” Upton, are the only two brothers in MLB history to be selected first and second overall in the modern draft era (albeit two different drafts).
The Upton’s are also the first brother duo to make it into the 20-20 club(20 home runs and 20 stolen bases). The due\o have even managed to play together in the same outfield twice as members to the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.
B.J. is no longer in the league, but his younger brother Justin has certainly carried the torch in his absence.
Upton’s awakening couldn’t have come at a better time, not only for the Angels but for Black fans around the country.
After tumbling out the gates to start the 2021 season, Dominic Smith’s recent hot streak has been a key reason the New York Mets have charged to the top of the National League East.
Smith is 7-for-17 in his last six games played (.411 BA) and slugging around 600. to raise his season average near .260. He’s beginning to look like the player who many believed had finally arrived during the 2020 Covid-shortened season.
Dominic Smith went nearly two full months between this homer and his last one on 4/13. Had to feel good in general, but it had to feel a little extra good because that baby wasn’t a cheap one. #Mets#LGM (via @Mets) pic.twitter.com/5Y2tox4mBd
And while hitting is what gets him paid, Smith’s improvements on defense should have Mets fans extremely excited about the future.
A first baseman by trade, Smith has been forced to learn a new position with the emergence of slugging first basemen Pete Alonso (The 2019 NL Rookie of the Year). And for a while, things looked bleak for Smith in the outfield.
Coming into this season, Smith had played 470 1/3 innings in left field, and the results during that time left much to be desired.
There’s a plethora of metrics — that would take most folks hours to understand — that’s used to determine how good a particular player is defensively.
The two important metrics to look at here are Outs Above Average and Defensive Run Saved.
Outs Above Average is a ranged base metric of skill that shows how many outs a player has saved, while Defensive runs saved quantifies a player’s entire defensive performance by attempting to measure how many runs a defender saved. It takes into account errors, range, outfield arm and double-play ability.
Last season, the universal DH allowed the Mets to hide Smith’s inadequacies in the outfield by splitting his time with Alonso between DH & First Base. With the universal DH no longer an option, Smith has put in the work to be an everyday outfielder.
Although this is a small sample size, in 319 2/3 in left this season Smith has done a complete 180. He’s produced a 2 DRS, 0.8 RngR while being top 10 in each of the previously mentioned statistical categories.
But what can cause such a drastic shift in a player’s defensive rating?
According to Thomas Hall of metsmerizedonline.com, it’s as simple as adjusting his pre-pitch positioning.
“Well, a major component of his progression has been where the team has positioned him before the start of each play,” Hall writes. “Since the Junipero Serra HS standout has historically struggled with his range in the outfield, the coaching staff has decided to move him closer to the foul line, which has made it much easier for him to track down balls when ranging to his right.”
Smith has also stepped up as a mentor for younger players like MLBbro rookie Khalil Lee.
Last season, the Mets were one of the worst defensive teams in Major League Baseball. But now, as the game evolves and defensive versatility is considered a huge plus, the emergence of Smith as not only a dangerous hitter, but a reliable defender and leader will help the Mets remain in the pennant race.
Ed Howard and Brennen Davis are two of the top five prospects in the Chicago Cubs farm system.
The idea of becoming a foundational piece of a rebuild should excite any ballplayer, but for these two young MLB bros, the opportunity to do so in a Cubs uniform can add to a rich history of Black baseball on Chicago’s North Side.
Howard, the 19-year old Chicago kid who rose to fame during his historic Little League World Series run with the Jackie Robinson West program, was selected with the 16th overall pick in the 2020 draft.
The pick was loved all over the city, and Howard seemed more than ready for the challenge of playing at home.
“I was looking forward to it,” Howard told MLB.com. “I wanted to be a hometown kid. I’m excited it’s with the Cubs. I think that’s a great organization. I watch a lot of Cubs games, follow them, know a lot of their players and things like that, so I’m excited to be a hometown guy. It’s special.”
The 6-foot-2, 185 pound Howard is projected as a plus shortstop with consistent hard contact and gap power with room to grow. The consensus top prep shortstop in his class will be given every opportunity to become a staple of the Cubs middle infield of the future.
But Howard, a smooth fielder, wouldn’t be the first MLB bro to make noise at short for the Cubs.
Made popular by his catchphrase “Let’s play two”, Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks was signed by the Cubs from the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs in 1953. Once in Chicago, Banks quickly cemented himself as the greatest power-hitting shortstop in the game.
After hitting 19 home runs his rookie season, Banks hit 44 bombs the very next year and would go on to hit 40 homers five times from 1955-60. Banks’ unprecedented power from the position wouldn’t be matched until deep into the “steroid era”.
Now for Davis, there aren’t any additional pressures of being a hometown kid, but there are still some lofty expectations being placed on the 21- year old, 2018 second-round pick. Just listen to Iowa Cubs’ manager Marty Pevey:
“I’ve never — and this is the God’s honest truth — I have never seen power like this kid’s going to have. I’m not talking about pull power. I’m talking about just raw, leverage power — like Dale Murphy driving the ball to right-center early in his career. Holy smokes, he’s got some pop.”
Murphy was a great power hitter in his era, but when you began to see “30-30 talent” on scouting reports, you have to immediately think of another former Cub. Andre Dawson flirted with the 30-30 club early in his career but didn’t become a league MVP until joining the Cubs in 1989.
In order to revive the game of baseball in the Black community, we need an influx of young, Black, exciting talent.
With MLB bros like Howard and Davis in the pipeline, the future looks brighter than ever.
Reliever Keynan Middleton is back, and the Seattle Mariners’ bullpen has to be happy.
Middleton, who had been out since May 5 with a strained bicep, looked strong in his return on Friday night against the San Diego Padres. In fact, the righthander looked a lot like the budding young talent the Mariners had hoped to be getting this offseason.
Middleton pitched one scoreless inning with a walk in a losing effort for the Mariners. But his strong appearance is another sign that the promising pitcher is returning to pre-Tommy John form.
Once dubbed the closer of the future for the Los Angeles Angels organization, Middleton has shown flashes of dominance out the pen.
During the 2020 season, the average velocity of his fastball returned to pre-TJ form (97.1) while he had also added four mph to his slider and changeup. Despite his return to form physically, the Angels decided to cut ties with the promising reliever this offseason, which led to the Oregon native heading back to the Pacific Northwest.
Now in Seattle, Middleton has been able to showcase the velocity and spin that many in the Angels’ organization were unsure was back for good.
As a result of his recent success, many around the Mariners’ organization think he may force manager Scott Servais into a tough decision.
“The returned fastball velocity is one thing — Middleton probably needs it if he hopes to be a solid reliever,” writes SB Nation’s Michael Ajeto. “But an improved slider is his second prerequisite if he hopes to exist in the form of a potent, dominant reliever … If Middleton continues to surge with his fastball velocity and slider, he may add to that. And within a matter of weeks, that may mean putting Rafael Montero out of a job.”
The Black Relief Pitcher
The emergence of Middleton as a dominant reliever would place him amongst a very small distinguished group. The majority of conversations surrounding the lack of Black pitchers in the major league have focused strictly on starting pitching, but there has been little attention given to the lack of Black relief pitchers.
We rightfully speak of the Black Aces with reverence, but when we begin to speak of legendary Black relievers, most fans simply don’t know where to begin. We remember names like Flash Gordon and Lee Smith, but that’s where most conversations end.
This lack of representation in bullpens across the sport is why Middleton’s resurgence is so important. Gordon and Smith are both Top 100 all-time in saves, yet are barely mentioned when we speak of the greatest relievers of all time.
At just 27 years old, Middleton has the potential to build a reputation as one of the best relievers in the game. Boasting a 3.86 ERA with a .86 WHIP in 11 2/3 innings, all the tools are there.
Only time will tell if he can put it all together, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on him here at MLBbro.com.
As shortstop Tim Anderson goes, so do the White Sox.
Once considered a raw power-hitting prospect with all the tools but lacking experience, Anderson has blossomed into one of the best pure hitters in baseball. He’s currently on an 11-game hitting streak and is batting .316. In fact, he’s hit in 22 of his last 25 games.
The rise of Tim Anderson as a face of baseball comes at a time where Black fans are longing for a reason to get back into the game. Tim has embraced that challenge, and the South Side of Chicago all in the same breathe.
“Every corner, you’re going to see a White Sox hat,” said Anderson. “I’m here to change the game. I’m here to show these kids that it’s OK, baseball’s cool, and you can play it.”
Since Opening Day, the Chicago White Sox have been one of the most discussed teams in the MLB. After years of rebuilding, Chicago is loaded with talent and poised to challenge for the American League pennant.
The White Sox have the 5th-best hitting and pitching squads in baseball. They also have a former batting champion and consistent party starter in Anderson and a Hall of Fame manager (Tony La Russa) who was called back into action to lead this squad to glory.
But even with a roster loaded with 2020 AL MVP Jose Abreu and Cy Young contender Lucas Giolito, TA is one name that fans keep in mind when monitoring the success of these White Sox.
And no, it’s not simply because of the bat-flips.
Over the past two seasons, the 2019 batting title winner has blossomed into one of the best pure hitters in baseball, and his charisma, talent, and emotion have had a drastic impact on the success of the White Sox.
“I want to be the best, so I practice like it, and I think like it,” Anderson told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Confidence is always at an all-time high. I never lose. A guy might strike me out, but I got myself out. He didn’t get me out.”
Anderson’s swagger has been infectious, and as a result, the White Sox always look like a completely different team with him in the lineup.
On Saturday he swagged out his cleats in a Laker’s color scheme in honor of the late Kobe Bryant’s Hall of Fame induction.
The power he was originally known for is still there, but his approach at the plate has evolved. He can hurt opponents in a multiplicity of ways.
His ultra-aggressive hitting style is complemented by his silky smooth base running, as Anderson is currently 4th in the MLB in stolen bases. Let’s not forget his lethal glove.
Since his return from the IL on Jackie Robinson Day, the White Sox are in first place in the AL Central and one of just two teams with a winning percentage greater than .600. A team that once looked lost offensively has rebounded to have the highest run differential in all of baseball.
He continues to walk the walk and contribute to the culture and future of the game.