Vintage Upton on display this season in SD

Left fielder impressing in new position, at the plate

Vintage Upton on display this season in SD

SAN FRANCISCO -- In his prime, Melvin Upton Jr. -- technically B.J. at the time -- dominated highlight reels with the Tampa Bay Rays, showcasing five tools on a nightly basis.

No, Upton wasn't that same player in his first three seasons after signing a long-term deal with Atlanta in 2013. But have you checked the '16 Padres highlight reel lately? There's an awful lot of Upton.

Nearly a month into the season, Upton has been arguably the Padres' best all-around player -- and the author of three of their most exciting moments. He's second on the club among the regulars with a .329 on-base percentage, has played Gold Glove Award-caliber left field (a new position) and has swiped six bags -- one behind the Pirates' Starling Marte for the league lead.

In short, at 31, Upton is playing at a level resembling the player he was nearly a decade ago.

"I'm in a good spot," says Upton. "It's been a long time coming. It's a place where I've been before. I just got away from it. And it's been a long road to get it back."

Upton's 14th-inning walk-off home run against Arizona two weeks ago, a rocket to straightaway center field, was undoubtedly the Padres' biggest highlight this season. He also owns two of San Diego's best defensive plays, leaping at the wall to rob a home run against Pittsburgh and firing a laser to second base on Monday to cut down Matt Duffy's attempt at a double.

Upton Jr's outstanding throw

But more than the jaw-dropping moments, Padres skipper Andy Green has been impressed with the consistency Upton has displayed.

"It probably clearly lines up with who he was in Tampa," Green said. "He's got the type of body that ages incredibly well. There's still a ton of quick-twitch in him. He's still flying around the bases. He kind of glides and almost looks effortless -- but he's really moving at the same time.

"He's played very good. The fresh start, kind of flushing his time in Atlanta, the rebirth over here since he's been in a Padre uniform -- it's been very good for him."

In eight years with Tampa Bay, Upton posted a .758 OPS, swiped 232 bags and homered 118 times. Before the 2013 season, he inked a five-year deal with Atlanta, and the production immediately declined.

After being dealt to San Diego with Craig Kimbrel in April 2015, Upton got off to a slow start with the Padres as well. But he posted an .800 OPS in the second half and hasn't looked back.

"I think it was more mental," Upton said. "I don't really think about it. It's kind of in the past for me. I just deal with what comes. I put in a lot of work in the spring, and always feel like it's going to get better."

Must C: Upton Jr. robs home run

Upton, who had spent the previous eight seasons playing center field exclusively, moved to left this past offseason when San Diego acquired Jon Jay from St. Louis. The transition has been seamless. In an admittedly small sample, Upton has +3 defensive runs saved and has made a handful of tricky catches look very easy.

"The key was wanting to go over there, not having an ego, and saying, 'I'll go where the team needs me,'" said first-base coach Tarrik Brock, who is in charge of the Padres' outfielders. "To me, that was the first step. Then he put the work in in Spring Training."

From a few feet away in center, Jay has had the best view of Upton's theatrics.

"You've seen him make plays everywhere," Jay said. "He's making it look easy out there. We're definitely having fun out there, as a whole outfield, and [Upton] has done a great job. ... He's taken away hits that are usually automatic hits."

Just how quickly did Upton make the transition to his new position? Before Green had even officially announced his everyday left fielder this spring, he had declared Upton capable of winning a Gold Glove Award there.

Given his production in all facets this month, Upton will get a chance to make his case. And a chance is all Upton wanted in San Diego anyway.

"They gave me the opportunity," Upton says, "and I'm enjoying it."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.