Braves manager outlines lineup with B.J. and Justin Upton

B.J. Upton and Justin Upton
B.J. Upton and Justin Upton

B.J. Upton (left) and Justin Upton will be wearing the same uniform for the first time in 2013. (AP)

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez wasted no time figuring out how he’d fit both B.J. and Justin Upton into his lineup after general manager Frank Wren recently raised the possibility of acquiring the latter. “As soon as Frank mentioned this about six, seven days ago,” Gonzalez said in a telephone interview.

Atlanta, of course, signed B.J. to a five-year free-agent deal back in November, and it added Justin Upton in a seven-player trade with the Diamondbacks on Thursday, making Gonzalez the first professional manager to have the luxury of filling out a batting order with both brothers. B.J., the 28-year-old former No. 2 overall pick who has averaged 19 homers, 36 steals and a .768 OPS over his six full seasons, and Justin, the 25-year-old former No. 1 overall pick who has averaged 23 homers, 19 steals and a .846 OPS in his four full seasons, figure to help give the Braves an excellent chance at returning to the postseason.

Though acknowledging that a lot could change between Jan. 24 and Opening Day on April 1, Gonzalez outlined a lineup with Justin Upton batting third and B.J. Upton batting fifth, righthanded bookends around lefty-swinging Brian McCann (presuming, of course, that the catcher is fully healed from offseason shoulder surgery by then):

SS Andrelton Simmons
RF Jason Heyward
LF Justin Upton
C Brian McCann
CF B.J. Upton
1B Freddie Freeman or 2B Dan Uggla
2B Dan Uggla or 1B Freddie Freeman
3B Chris Johnson or Juan Francisco

For the first time in almost 20 years, that lineup does not include Chipper Jones, the future Hall of Fame third baseman who returned after last season. Gonzalez, though, gave Justin Upton one of the best compliments a hitter in Atlanta can receive.

“He was the guy we were missing for Chipper Jones,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to miss that presence of the old No. 10 in the lineup, but now we have him.”

They’ll have him for at least the next three years. Justin is due $38.5 million in that time and B.J. is under contract for five years and $75.25 million. They will join 23-year-old Jason Heyward, a former Rookie of the Year runner-up who won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season, to form one of the majors’ best outfields. “To have [those three] for the next three-to-five years in the same outfield — boy, that’s exciting,” said Gonzalez.

Both Uptons have had their bouts with inconsistency in their young careers, but Gonzalez knows better than most how good they can be. When he was managing the Marlins in 2009, B.J. Upton, then a centerfielder with the Rays, went 9-for-25 (.360) with five extra-base hits, six RBIs and three stolen bases in six games against the Marlins; Justin Upton, then a rightfielder with the Diamondbacks who’ll move to leftfield with Atlanta, went 13-for-35 (.371) with two triples, three home runs, 10 RBIs and two stolen bases in his eight games against Gonzalez’s team that year and .375 in five games against his Braves in 2012.

“I remember those guys being involved in a lot of rallies,” Gonzalez said. “I saw B.J. either hit a double or hit a home run or make a great catch from the outfield to save a rally. With Justin Upton, you felt uncomfortable when he came up to the plate in certain situations.”

Now, Gonzalez can feel perfectly comfortable with the knowledge that every time an Upton is at the plate, it will be for his team.

– By Joe Lemire

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