“I’m in a good place, especially mentally.” That’s how B.J. Upton described his state of being this offseason, which is refreshing to hear considering he often looked like a deer in the headlights at the plate last year.
Upton had a historically bad debut season for the Atlanta Braves in 2013. But let bygones be bygones – all can be forgiven if the wiry center fielder rebounds in 2014.
The telltale sign that this year will be much different than last may be that Upton has already made an adjustment to his batting stance in the offseason. Reports have it that he is sporting a much less upright approach, featuring more bend in his knees (and hopefully much less wasted motion, particularly in his lower half).
What caused the most frustration amongst Braves fans last year was Upton’s seeming unwillingness to change anything with his swing. Multiple accounts stated that he would make adjustments in practice under the guidance of hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher, see good results and then revert back to old habits in game situations.
“You knew he was fighting the fight,” said Walker, who has repeatedly praised Upton’s work ethic. “It’s just something that wasn’t working, and you knew it was probably going to take the winter to work it out.”
Hopefully Walker is right. The fact that Upton has already made an adjustment and is in good spirits about it is a promising sign. But it remains to be seen whether his progress in the cage carries over onto the field.
Spring Training is a notoriously difficult time to gauge the preparedness and effectiveness of players; the Braves have never been an organization to put much stock in “success” in the preseason, and typically the team comes out of its time down in Florida with more losses than one might expect. But a close eye will be kept on Upton by all – players, coaches and spectators alike.
It would be nearly impossible for him to repeat the ineptitude he displayed at the plate last year, so at the very least, Upton’s 2014 campaign should be an improvement. How much of an improvement will be determined by the quality of his approach and the amount of trust he places in his coaches (as well as in his willingness to make adjustments and push through the learning curve of doing so).
If Upton can simply put up his career average numbers, hit somewhere in the neighborhood of .250 with 15-20 home runs and 70-80 RBIs, the Braves already-potent offense will receive a major (and not at all counted on) shot in the arm.
Imagine what the team will be able to do if Dan Uggla also turns things around.