Justin Upton – The Next Matt Kemp?


Can Justin Upton be the next Matt Kemp? (Image: Photographer Name, US Presswire)

I know, I know…I’m lucky you’ve even allowed your eyes to get this far into this commentary, but bare with me here. Amidst the general managers meetings kicking off this week in California and the re-emergence of the Justin Upton trade rumors, allow me a few moments to explain why I believe Upton could be on the verge of tapping into some Matt Kemp-like potential.

First, let’s spell out the most common similarity here between these two. The overused “5 tool player” phrase. Like Kemp, Upton has shown glimpses of the unique blend of hitting for power, hitting for average, showing speed on the base paths, fielding and throwing. He’s shown it all, just not as consistently as Diamondbacks’ fans may like. Same dynamic Matt Kemp faced before his breakout season of 2011.

Prior to his near MVP season of 2011, Matt Kemp was looked at in a similar light as Justin Upton currently is…all kinds of potential and tools, flashes of brilliance, but not quite the level of consistency that the Dodgers organization or fans wanted from Kemp. Flash to 2009, Kemp is coming off of a Silver Slugger season hitting .297 with 26 HR, 101 RBI, 34 SB and looking to be growing into everything the Dodger supporters had hoped he would be. This created some lofty expectations for 2010. Kemp had a considerable decline in that 2010 season in RBI, OPS, SB and a number of other categories and produced a season in which most would say was a disappointment and a step back in his career progression. Not too dissimilar to Justin Upton’s 2012 campaign.

2011 ended with the Diamondbacks’ disappointing loss to the Brewers in the NLDS. Though the sting of that loss lingered through the offseason, the promise of the future and 2012 brightened as Spring Training rolled around in February. Upton was coming off of a season in which he finished 4th in the NL MVP voting and at the peak of his young career arc. Not too dissimilar to Matt Kemp in 2009. A lingering thumb injury, fan and team criticism, rampant trade speculation and overall unmet expectations led to an underachieving 81-81 season for the Diamondbacks and an underwhelming campaign individually for Upton. Though his numbers weren’t a super-drastic decline, they still raised questions as to what type of player the Diamondbacks have on their hands and what should they do with him?

It seems as if this is a polarizing topic among Diamondbacks’ fans yet a no brainer among knowledgeable baseball minds. Keep Upton for his brimming potential and possible Matt Kemp-like career arc, or consider him missed potential and deal him this winter to the team that can give you the most in return. It’s disappointing that you would hear many Diamondbacks fans chose the latter. If history tells us anything, Arizona should strongly consider hanging on to what could be a blossoming MVP candidate, one who’s primed for a career year…just like the Dodgers decided to hang on to Matt Kemp.