Padres' Upton Gets Career Back On Track

Culture change is a positive development for the Friars

The Padres starting centerfielder on Opening Day is very likely going to be Melvin Upton Jr. A fair share of Padres fans look at his numbers (and $16 million contract) and are not terribly thrilled to see #2 patrolling the outfield.

But Upton has something to prove, and he’s more than happy to do it with the Padres.

“Most importantly, they let me be myself,” said outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. “They didn’t really put any expectations on anything. They said come in and be who you are. They told me they knew I was a hard worker and told me to just continue to work.”

Upton came over from the Braves in the Craig Kimbrel trade at the end of Spring Training in 2015. Getting away from Atlanta might be the best thing for his career. When asked if teams not letting him be himself was a problem in the past, Upton chose his words carefully.

“Tampa was good to me,” he said. “Joe (Maddon) was good to me. Joe always let me be myself so no, definitely not there.”

The numbers would support that. In eight years with the Rays Upton a career WAR of nearly 21 and was in the positive category every year except 2006 (when he was 21 years old). In Atlanta his numbers plummeted, hitting below .200 with a negative WAR.  Whatever went down there was not only bad for Upton’s career; it was bad for his psyche.

The trade to San Diego seemed to rejuvenate Upton. He hit .278 after the All-Star Break. Even his defense seemed to improve at Petco Park. Upton is among several players who say they’re feeling a level of comfortability they haven’t had in a while.

Nick Noonan was selected in the first round of the 2007 MLB Draft by the Giants. The Francis Parker High School alum got a couple of call-ups to San Francisco, but never really felt like he could play the kind of game he needs to play to be successful.

“I felt like I maybe just put a little bit of reserve on myself,” said Nick Noonan. “Now I’ve just been cutting it loose here and it feels great, just being loose and carefree.”

All this newfound personality freedom is being championed by first-year manager Andy Green, who wants guys to get their work done but have some fun in the process.

“I want everybody to be their authentic selves,” said Green. “The goal here is not, we turn one person in to another person … we help each person become the best version of themselves. I have no intention of myself being Tony LaRussa or Chip Hale or Bruce Bochy, that’s not going to happen. I’m going to be the best version of myself and continue to work to get better.”

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