Time for Upton to “Put Up or Shut Up”
We have been waiting since 2004 for the true potential to show its face boldly and proudly in Tampa Bay. Several times in the last few seasons we have seen it show its face, but somehow slink back into darkness like it has never existed. I have been one of his biggest cheerleaders since Tampa Bay Rays B J Upton came back up to the Major League level in 2004. I have seen him go from the Rays future at shortstop that season to one of the most promising centerfielders in the game, but the whole package has never stayed with him for an extended period.
But this season the gloves are off. I am not going to drag him through the mud or even tarnish him at all. I am going to let him do that himself now. As of Monday, January 17,2011 when Upton became the highest salaried player on the Rays squad, it is time for his “game” to “put up, or shut up”. This is the last grasp at the straw, the last Fandango, the long stretch for that elusive brass ring. When you give the Rays Republic 4.85 million reasons to call you out, you have to respond.
There is nothing I would love to see more than Upton to have a career season where he posts the type of numbers we have been salivating for since he first came up for good in 2006. But that season we saw that Upton was not our shortstop of the future as he played his final 16 games EVER at the position. Suddenly he was a thrust into the “hot corner” for 13 contests, and made his first journey into the Rays outfield.
But his outfield test lasted only one game in that 2006 season. Upton spent his field time from 2005-2007 basically bouncing around the infield from Third Base to Second Base looking for a solid “home” before the Rays put him into centerfield where a certain mystical magic began to materializes before our eyes.
On Opening Day in 2007 when the Rays put Upton in centerfield to start the season, it was a second coming for him. It was a chance for Upton to get a reprisal, a rebirth, a solid chance of redemption so he could reinvent himself with the Rays. To finally bridge that ever expanding gap between his potential and ability by providing superior defense to go along with his rocket arm.
On that day, Upton’s game both on the field and at the plate seemed to mesh into one, finally Upton showed everyone the player we always knew he could be. Sure the rust and the uncertainty in the vast expanses of Centerfield reared its ugly head, but all in all, it was like a hot dog meeting a bun for the first time….it looked like a perfect fit.
Suddenly at that point in 2007 it seemed that Upton was the real deal. People were becoming excited about Upton’s transformation. During 2007 we all witnessed the first blossom of Upton’s hitting potential as he slugged 24 Home Runs, 25 doubles and posted a .300 batting average. Upton’s game had finally collectively assembled itself and he was living up to all his past hype.
In between 2007 season and today something derailed within Upton. Some say his past shoulder injury has given him back hitting habits or stances. That his propensity for strikeouts ( averaging over 130 for 4 seasons) has shown his hitting game to either be too passive or overly aggressive. In addition, his power seemed to be pushed into the darkness again as Upton has only hit a combined 38 Home Runs, including 18 in 2010.
Upton did however unleash another weapon from his arsenal as he elevated his stolen base totals from 22 in 2007 to over 40 stolen bases or more over the past three seasons. It seemed he was coming out of his shell on the base paths, but still had trouble getting there.
But now for Upton, there can not be no more excuses. As the highest paid member of the Rays roster, his bat will be called upon nightly to ignite scoring chances, produce runs and become the offensive weapon we have all collectively been waiting for since 2007. There is no more time for excuses or apprehension, the team will need every hit, every stolen base and every ounce of ability within Upton to succeed. The pressure is on, and hopefully he can adapt and pull his weight, or he will be gone by the end of July.
That is a hard statement for me to make, but it is realistic. If Upton struggles in 2011, not only could he lose his Centerfield perch, his spot in the line-up, he could lose the right to wear those Rays colors. When you begin to make the type of money Upton has over the past two seasons, things are expected of you. Great things. This team, with its limited fiscal resources can not hang onto a bad investment for long, or it could cripple the overall plan of the Rays front office. Upton is not the only player to be firmly placed on the hot seat this season, but he is the only that will be pushed, prodded and poked to live up to his potential, or be gone.
With players in the minor leagues knocking at the door for a chance at this level, it is truly put up or shut up time for Upton in 2011. Upton doesn’t have to be a Carl Crawford clone, but he has to push his game to the next level both in the field and at the plate to lead this team either from the lead-off spot, or deeper in the line-up.
Upton has matured a lot since the first time I met him at 17 years of age when he first got a chance to put on a Rays uniform. His community and charity persona has escalated and proved he cares and is proud of his accomplishments. It is time for his bat to talk the same talk. To provide stellar moments of glory for both himself and his rebuilding team.
No longer can Upton keep his game semi hidden by the darkness, it now needs to explode loud and proud into the glowing Florida sunlight. I have personally witnessed Upton’s game expand explosively from A to M, but now he needs to take the next step and thrust it to Z. If he doesn’t, if he can’t, then it is finally time for myself and the Rays to look for another solution.
12 Rays players have departed the Rays since the ALDS loss to the Texas Rangers. But if Upton doesn’t provide that spark, that needed push in the Rays offensive machine, then I am willing to forego the teary goodbye. It is that final moment to either put up or shut up. Hopefully we can hear Upton’s voice screaming to the heavens because right now this is his team. He needs to either lead or get out of the way… for good.