Upton up to challenge in switch to left field

Upton up to challenge in switch to left field

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Melvin Upton's new position this spring with the Padres really isn't "new" at all. In fact, the ability to play left field is a skill that Upton has possessed, quite literally, since Day 1.

Twelve years ago in Seattle, Upton made his first start as an outfielder, playing left field for Tampa Bay. And even though he made the next 1,132 outfield appearances of his career in center, Upton foresees no issues with the current transition.

"I came into that Spring Training [in 2004] in a super-utility role, and I played everywhere," Upton said. "It's going to be a little bit of a transition now, but it's nothing that's going to be overwhelming. I've done it before."

Padres Spring Training info

Upton played left field, shortstop and third base during his first season in the Majors. In 2007, he added some second base to the mix. In fact, Upton didn't transition to a full-time center-field role until '08.

Since '08, however, every defensive inning Upton has played has come in center. But that didn't stop manager Andy Green from making a bit of a bold defensive prediction.

"That's a potential for a Gold Glove-caliber left fielder over there," he said.

M. Upton Jr.'s tough catch

Upton says the biggest adjustment has been reacting to the different trajectory of balls off the bat -- most notably the slice that tends to occur when a left-handed hitter goes to the opposite field.

But, according to Green, Upton has made that adjustment quicker than most. And while Green hasn't officially named Upton his starting left fielder, there's writing on the wall. The Padres feel Upton's range makes him an ideal fit in the spacious outfields of the National League West.

"I played center field for so long, and any time you play center field, parks always seem a little bit bigger than when you're on the corners," Upton said. "You're used to covering a lot of ground."

Perhaps more importantly, Upton has begun to hit the ball hard this spring. He smacked two doubles in Sunday's win over the Dodgers. And although he's 7-for-27 entering Monday's contest, five of those hits have gone for extra bases.

For Upton, who struggled early last season, it's simply a continuation of his torrid September, during which he batted .321/.406/.500.

"I just added a couple things, fine-tuned a couple things," Upton said of his offseason work on his swing. "... Any time you finish a season strong, to get ready for the next season it always helps."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.