SAN DIEGO -- At 31, Melvin Upton Jr.'s wheels could very well be slowing -- but you'd never know it from his stolen-base totals.Then again, if Upton has indeed lost a step since his big league career began in 2004, that still puts him faster than about 90 percent of
SAN DIEGO -- At 31, Melvin Upton Jr.'s wheels could very well be slowing -- but you'd never know it from his stolen-base totals.
Then again, if Upton has indeed lost a step since his big league career began in 2004, that still puts him faster than about 90 percent of the league. Entering play Saturday night, Upton had swiped 15 bases for the Padres this season, seventh in the Majors, and the outfielder has been caught only four times.
Throughout his 12-year big league career, Upton has always been an elite basestealer. But in his eyes, he's evolved into an efficient one as well. When he swiped 44 bags in 2008, he was also caught a league-leading 16 times.
"I think early in my career I just ran because I was fast," Upton said. "A lot of times, the situation didn't dictate it. Now, man, I think it's about picking the spots and knowing when to go in a good situation, and knowing pitchers."
In every season from 2008-12, Upton swiped at least 30 bases. He hasn't reached 30 since, but that's been largely the result of injuries and struggles at the plate, which kept him off the basepaths in the first place.
For much of this season, Upton has looked like his old self at the plate. And that means he could be well on his way to another 30-steal season. In Padres history, only Dave Roberts, Reggie Sanders and Rickey Henderson have recorded 30 steals past the age of 30.
If Upton does so, he'd join Miami's Ichiro Suzuki and Cleveland's Rajai Davis as the only players currently on Major League rosters with six 30-steal seasons.
"He's doing a heck of a job on the bases," said Padres skipper Andy Green. "There's hardly anybody he can't steal a base on right now, because he's getting reads, and he's making instinctual moves."
The highlight of Upton's season on the basepaths was undoubtedly his straight steal of home against the Rockies earlier this month -- in which he showcased one of the most athletic slides you'll ever see.
But in terms of base stealing, Upton's acumen is at the same elite level as his athleticism.
"I got an opportunity to play with a great basestealer in Carl Crawford [in Tampa Bay], and he's the one who taught me early in my career not to run all the time," Upton said. "Obviously, you want to steal as many bags as you can, but sometimes the situation won't dictate it."
In that regard, Upton is fully aware of the situation every time he reaches first base. If there's a power hitter at the plate, he'll stay put, figuring he has a chance to score with one swing anyway. If there's a pull-happy lefty at the dish, he'll also hold more often than not, opening up a gaping hole on the right side.
Otherwise, he's got free rein to take off whenever he wants. And more often than not this season, he's capitalized on it.
"He's a dynamic athlete who's got good instincts out there," Green said. "I think sometimes -- I can't speak for who's managed him in the past. But sometimes all a really good athlete needs is for someone to liberate him on the basepaths."
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.