Elder Upton looks to recapture hitting stroke
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Braves clubhouse grew a little more crowded on Sunday morning when the Upton brothers arrived to work out with the other position players who have made early arrivals to Spring Training this year.
While Justin Upton will be looking to build on what was a productive first season in Atlanta, his older brother, B.J., will spend the next few weeks preparing for a season that he hopes will be much different than last year.
Burdened by the pressure created by the five-year, $75.25 million contract he signed the previous offseason, Upton hit .184 with nine home runs and a .557 OPS, which ranks as the fourth-lowest mark by any Braves player since the club moved to Atlanta in 1966.
Though last year proved to be miserable, the elder Upton maintained a good attitude and displayed a work ethic was routinely lauded by his teammates and coaches. Manager Fredi Gonzalez and hitting coach Greg Walker have been encouraged with what they have heard and seen from the 29-year-old outfielder over the past month.
"I got to spend a little bit of time with him in the outfield," Gonzalez said. "His spirits are good, which I didn't expect anything else."
Walker kept in touch with B.J. during the winter and traveled to Tampa to watch him hit during the latter portion of January. The veteran hitting coach's optimism is fueled by the fact that he does not believe there is a need to make significant adjustments.
"When he broke into the league, he was a lot more efficient with his swing and body movements," Walker said. "We just want him to get back to being B.J. Upton. Over my years of experience -- and that's a lot of years -- this is a lot different than going in and telling a guy we have to throw everything out and start over."