One of the stories of the first few weeks of the season was the struggles of Justin Upton. The 21-year-old began the season by going six for his first 36, striking out 12 times in failing to hit the ball out of the park. After an 0 for 3 performance on April 21st, he found himself on the bench for a few days, and there was some talk that he might get optioned back to the minors to get himself straightened out.
That wasn’t necessary. Since getting re-inserted into the line-up on April 24th, Upton has hit a modest .397/.462/.754. 23 of his 50 hits have gone for extra bases during that stretch, and his .450 wOBA for the season now ranks him in a tie for 3rd highest in major league baseball. Upton’s showing remarkable power for a player his age, as his .290 ISO is one of the highest marks in the league. When you see a player that young hitting for that much power, you have something remarkably special. Here’s the list of major league players who have posted an ISO of .250 (minimum 100 PA) or higher before turning 22:
Eddie Mathews, Adam Dunn, Mel Ott, Willie McCovey, Ted Williams, Albert Pujols, Gregg Jefferies, Alex Rodriguez, Bob Horner, Jimmie Foxx, Frank Robinson, Hal Trosky, Joe Mauer, Babe Ruth, Darryl Strawberry, Joe Dimaggio.
How’s that for some exclusive company?
We talked about this over the winter, but Upton’s performance just reinforces the point that we may very well be looking at a Hall Of Fame player emerging before us. 90% of the guys who play at this level at such a young age end up in Cooperstown. We’re not enshrining the kid yet, as there’s still guys like Juan Gonzalez on the comparable players list, but that is starting to look like Upton’s downside.
Yes, he still strikes out a lot, and he won’t sustain a .450 wOBA all year with this kind of skill set. However, the prodigious power is for real, and when you find that kind of ability to drive the ball so far before he hits his physical prime, you’ve found a franchise player.
Welcome to super stardom, Justin.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.