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Fantasy Baseball 2012: Upton or Bautista?

In this week's column, writer Cody Ulm tries his best to make sense of two marquee outfielder's slow starts.

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Or should I said Flop-ton or Bust-ista? Alright, that was uncalled for but it would be an understatement to point out that Justin Upton and Jose Bautista haven't lived up to expectations this season.

In the world of fantasy sports, there are few things worse than having your first round draft pick not pan out. And let's face it, Upton and Bautista (two gentlemen who went anywhere from fourth to eighth overall in most fantasy drafts) have been about as useful as the word no when giving a massage to John Travolta.

But is it really time to already abandon ship a little over the month into the season? Or should you instead be targeting this duo in a trade? Hold on tight through the jump and let's find out:

The case for Mr. Upton:

After finishing fourth in the National League MVP voting last season, Upton was a steady riser up draft charts with most estimating he could only go up from there due to his age (24). Thirty-six games into 2012, that potential still remains untapped as Upton has only hit three home runs and nine RBIs to go along with his .226/.316/.349 line.

What most fans are forgetting is that slow starts like this are nothing new for Upton. Just look back at last year; on May 15, Upton owned an OBP of only .325. Even in 2009 when Upton finished with the highest batting average of his career (.300) he was hitting under .200 through nearly the end of April.

Usually it's just a matter of time before Upton turns it on permanently and it looked like that was beginning to occur after the 2011 All Star strung together a few multi-hit games in the past two weeks. But after accumulating only five hits in his last 28 at bats, some are clamoring that Upton's thumb may be bothering him more than he's letting on.

While that may be the case, I look at the fact that Arizona has been without two key cogs in their lineup (Stephen Drew and Chris Young) for essentially the entire season as the more concerning issues. Once those two return in the coming weeks, Upton will have a consistent form of protection (Young) and a proven veteran to get on base in front of him (Drew).

The case for Mr. Bautista:

To begin, I'd like to point out how funny it is that Bautista, a man who was a career journeyman until age 29, is even being considered a fantasy bust at this point. Then again, I guess that's what major league-leading 97 home runs over the last two years will do for you.

Bautista is sitting on a .194/.323/.403 line following Monday night's 0-3 performance. But while hitting under the Mendoza Line is never a good thing, fans should reconsider before they start trying to dump Bautista for some pretty young thing.

First off, as a career .252 hitter, it's easy to see that Bautista spoiled his owners last season with his .302 average so let's just make it clear that that's never going to happen again. So if you ever we're planning on relying on Bautista for average, I feel no pity for you.

Still, Bautista can do better and there are some telling signs that he should start to pick that average up sooner rather than later. For example, while Bautista's.323 OBP isn't a stat to be proud off when examining by itself, it certainly is significant when you take into consideration it's .129 points higher than his average. And when you compare his strikeouts (19) through this time last year to his current total (22), it's obvious that his plate discipline isn't at the root of his struggles.

Instead, Bautista's problem may simply be bad luck. According, up through Sunday's game, 17.42% of the 31-year-old slugger's at-bats were ending in a fly-out. When comparing that to his 2011 percentage of 13.67%, the only real conclusion to be had is that his shots aren't landing. Perhaps it's his all-or-nothing mentality with nearly 1/3rd of his hits leaving the park (eight homers from 25 hits) but then again, Bautista's ground-out percentage is also up nearly five points from last year (9.35% to 14.19%). If Bautista keeps up with those numbers at this current rate, it's only a matter of time before those balls start finding the gap.

So, who do you choose?

Well, is there an all-of-the-above option?

If you're the owner of Bautista or Upton, PLEASE listen this lowly writer and hang onto each of them if you haven't abandoned ship yet. You drafted each of these men in the first round for a reason and while they haven't backed up that lofty position so far but this bust talk will be long forgotten come September.

If we're talking trade targets though, Upton is my target if I have an outfield void. Yes, Bautista begin to show signs of life this weekend, clubbing three homers in his first two multi-hit games since Opening Day. But for me, that just means the window for a buy-low opportunity has passed.

When Upton is on his game, he's a true 30-30 threat that can fill your fantasy stat sheet up in all sorts of ways. Lost in the Diamondbacks disappointing start and his season long downward spiral is the fact that Upton is running the bases beautifully. Already accumulating 22 runs and five stolen bases in the 32 games he's appeared in, Upton is on pace to set new career-highs in each of those categories if this continues.

At best, I see Bautista topping out at around .245 this year average-wise. Sure, he'll be in the top-five in the American League in home runs and the walks are always nice if your league uses OBP. But it's beginning to look like he's plateauing after last year's gaudy numbers and I don't think it'd be surprising to anyone if he never has another 2011 again.

So instead of dealing for someone who could very well could be on the decline, why not go after someone who has no where but up to go? He wont be cheap with most owners still recognizing his high ceiling but for my money, I'd rather Upton over Bautista.