Upton eyes roster spot; Kipnis preps for 2B

February 18th, 2018

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona described his conversations with Melvin Upton Jr. as one of the highlights of his offseason. The veteran outfielder is coming off a disappointing season marred by injury, but he is healthy now and is hoping to earn a place on the Opening Day roster.

"It wouldn't surprise me if he came in and really showed well," Francona said on Sunday, which was report day for the team's position players. "I just think he's in a good place, and I think he wants to go out and kind of prove that he can help a team win."

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Upton is in camp on a Minor League contract, which is the same type of deal that received on Saturday. They will compete for a spot among the Indians' outfield, which could benefit from a right-handed complement or two. As things stand, the three main outfielders -- , and -- hit from the left side.

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Upton, 33, appeared in only 12 games with Triple-A Sacramento last year due to right hand and shoulder issues. During his last full season in 2016, Upton hit .238 with 20 homers, 61 RBIs, 64 runs, 27 steals and a .693 OPS in 149 games between tours with the Blue Jays and the Padres. That showing included a .275 average and .874 OPS in 136 plate appearances against left-handed pitching.

Francona happy to be back in Indians' camp

With the Indians, Upton would fit in primarily as an option for all three positions against left-handers. That is the same kind of role that (also a non-roster invitee during Spring Training last year) filled during the '17 campaign. is also a corner-outfield option against lefties, but he is questionable for Opening Day due to an ongoing comeback from left wrist surgery.

"'If I go out and play and do what I know I can do, the rest will take care of itself," Upton said. "I can't worry about things I can't control. All I can control is what I do. So, Minor League deal or Major League deal, fourth outfielder, whatever, it doesn't matter. I'm here to play baseball."

Kipnis prepping for second

Francona had his individual meetings with position players on Sunday morning, giving him a chance to go over spring goals and to discuss the upcoming season. Francona said he had a great meeting with , who is preparing to open the year at second base, as opposed to the outfield.

"At first he said, 'Just tell me and I'll go,'" Francona said. "And I'm like, 'I'd rather not do that.' Because of who he is and what he's accomplished ,and what he can accomplish, I think it's better if we do it together. Asking somebody to do something they don't think they can do isn't going to help us.

"So, I think we had a really good meeting. But, again, he's a second baseman. And if something ever changed, certainly you guys are going to know about it. It's not a secret. But, the idea is for him to play second."

Worth noting

• Due to changes in the Major League schedule this season, there are only four full-squad workouts before the Indians take on the Reds in Friday's Cactus League opener. Francona is not a big supporter of the abbreviated practice period and he said it could influence how he makes out his lineup in the first week of games.

"I'm not a fan of this," Francona said. "I know some people think Spring Training is too long, but we've got a game on Friday. I know the league's trying to crack down on making sure you have enough regular players in games, and I'm having a hard time, because I don't know if I really want our guys in there yet. I mean, four days is not very long."

• Right-hander (right shoulder) continued a flat-ground throwing program on Sunday, but there is no firm timetable for his return to the mound. The club plans on taking a conservative approach with Salazar.

"We would certainly much rather have him back at full speed," Francona said, "than shoot for the fourth game of the year, just because. Again, we need to be deep enough to be able to handle things like this, and I think we are."

• Francona got his first look at 's short-cropped platinum hairdo on Sunday. He quipped: "I dropped a Billy Idol on him one time, but it surprised me. Again, I'm not the first person that they come running to for fashion, hair especially. But, I thought he looked OK."