Upton Jr. feels he has 'a lot left in the tank'

January 26th, 2016

SAN DIEGO -- Before the final game of the regular season, Melvin Upton Jr. stood in front of his locker in the clubhouse at Dodger Stadium and tried his best to put into words the current state of his big league career.

"It's been working to get where I've been in the past," Upton said. "I don't want to say I'm satisfied, but it's night and day from where I was the last two years. … I'm comfortable [now] with what I'm doing."

Obtained from the Braves the day before last Opening Day in the Craig Kimbrel deal, Upton didn't appear in his first big league game until June 8, after recovering from inflammation in his left foot that dated back to Spring Training.

Despite his late arrival, Upton played a strong defensive center field (he was plus-2 in defensive runs saved) while putting together a 1.6 WAR season during an 87-game stint with the Padres.

Upton posted the highest line-drive rate (24.3 percent) of his career and had his lowest ground-ball rate (41.1 percent) since 2012 (40.3 percent with the Rays). His strikeout rate (27.2) was his lowest since 2012 (26.7 percent).

Hampered by injuries during his two seasons with the Braves in 2013-14, Upton showed flashes of promise with the Padres.

"The last few years, he's obviously had injury history, and last year was a chance to come back from a foot issue to get back to playing baseball," said Padres general manager A.J. Preller.

"The second half of the year, he started to put himself back on the map. We saw some real flashes."

In his final 85 at-bats of the season, Upton produced a .306/.379/.529 line with a .908 OPS.

That is why in a lost season for the Padres, Upton saw something else.

"I still think I've got a lot left in the tank," he said.

Upton will head to Spring Training next month -- something he missed a year ago with the Braves because of the foot injury -- looking to win the center-field job. The Padres, who owe Upton $16 million this season and $17 million in 2017, would certainly like to see him seize the position and run with it.

And with Upton's brother, Justin, gone to Detroit, the Padres need all the offense they can get to improve upon their woeful finish a year ago, when they ranked last in the big leagues in batting average (.243) and on-base percentage (.300).

Melvin Upton will get competition from rookie Travis Jankowski, and the two could end up in a right-left split in center field. Newcomer Jon Jay would likely then fit in left field.

"You never really know what to expect when you join a new team, and to get traded right out of Spring Training, it still turned out pretty well," Melvin Upton said.

Padres position players report to Arizona on Feb. 23, with the first full-squad workout set for the following day.