The 2016 campaign was a tale of two seasons for Justin Upton. From April through July, he hit .239/.294/.405 with 13 homers, 50 runs and 46 RBI in just over 400 plate appearances. Upton then went on to hit .258/.341/.584 the rest of the season with 18 homers, 31 runs and 41 RBI in just over 200 plate appearances. Overall, it was Upton's best home-run total since 2011 and his numbers were mostly in line with where they have been in seasons past, save his on-base percentage. A career-low .310 OBP cut into his stolen-base opportunities and some of that was due to the early struggles as well as a career-worst walk rate of just eight percent. He turns 30 this year, so the power should stay while the steals may be gone. Upton needs to make more contact to get back to helping with average, otherwise, he's a decent three-category player with more name value than real value.
Manager Brad Ausmus said Upton won't bat second this season, Evan Woodbery of MLive.com reports. Upton batted second 18 times for the Tigers in the first few weeks of the 2016 season, and he struggled mightily. During that stretch, he batted just .208 with one home run. From that point on, he primarily hit sixth and batted .252 with 30 home runs. Look for Upton to bat in the middle of Detroit's lineup this year, where he clearly appears more comfortable.
Upton, who has an opt-out clause in his contract after this season, will likely remain with Detroit in 2018 and beyond, Anthony French of the Detroit Free Press reports. After this season, Upton will still have four years and $88.5 million left on his contract. It's unlikely that Upton will find a better deal on the open market, given the quiet nature of the current offseason. Upton's average dipped to .246 in his first year with the Tigers, but he tied a career high with 31 home runs. He should continue to post good numbers in a Detroit lineup that includes the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler.
Upton hit his 26th home run of the season in the seventh inning during Game 1 of Thursday's Tigers doubleheader. Insert more fire emojis here. The blast was his fourth in five days, seventh of the month (plus a .942 September OPS), and 16th since the All-Star break. He's matched his bomb total from last year and finally looks like the top-50 draft pick mixed leaguers expected but didn't get for most of this past season.
Upton went 2-for-3 with a pair of homers, four RBI and a walk in Saturday's 11-4 loss to the Indians. The slugging outfielder was the only member of the Tigers lineup to get to Corey Kluber, who otherwise stymied the Detroit offense. Upton took the former Cy Young winner deep with a 436-foot solo shot in the second and followed up with a 420-foot three-run blast in the sixth that cut the Indians lead to 6-4 at the time. It was Upton's fourth multi-hit game of September and first homer of the month, but his current .238 average is his lowest since his initial cup of coffee in the majors with the D-backs in 2007.
Upton (calf) is back in the lineup Wednesday against the Twins. Upton exited Monday's contest with a calf strain and missed Tuesday's tilt as a result, but the issue is apparently minor enough that he'll be able to slot back into the lineup after just one day off. The 29-year-old will draw the start in left field and bat sixth against Minnesota starter Tyler Duffey.