The Toronto Blue Jays are building up their roster for a post-season push.
The club still needs pitching help, but the front office addressed another organizational need by acquiring veteran outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. and cash from the San Diego Padres for prospect Hansel Rodriguez.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Blue Jays’ new outfielder:
Name: Melvin Upton Jr.
Height: 6-foot-3 | Weight: 185 lbs.
Contract status: Will become free agent after 2017 season
What he brings to the table
Upton is a logical addition for the Blue Jays on a number of fronts. In the short-term, he’s a good defender who can play all three outfield positions, which gives manager John Gibbons more lineup flexibility if he wants to use Jose Bautista or Michael Saunders at designated hitter. Upton also adds significant speed to the roster, with 20 stolen bases already this season.
Entering play Tuesday, Upton is hitting .256/.304/.439 with 16 home runs, 45 RBI, 106 strikeouts and 23 walks in 374 plate appearances. He ranks 90th among position players with 1.5 wins above replacement, ahead of big-name outfielders such as Giancarlo Stanton, Jason Heyward, Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew McCutchen, and Jay Bruce. Upton gives the team another right-handed bat who can excel against left-handed pitching, as evidenced by his .913 OPS against lefties this season. That production allows the Blue Jays to keep Justin Smoak on the bench when left-handers start.
Upton also fills a potential need for the 2017 season, as the Blue Jays could be short on outfielders if pending free agents Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders head elsewhere in free agency. The 31-year-old Upton, who is scheduled to make $16.45 in 2017 in the final season of his five-year contract, would presumably slide into one of the corner outfield spots if necessary.
Came up as a superprospect
As a five-tool player coming out of high school, Upton was easily the most hyped prospect entering the 2002 MLB Draft. He went No. 2 overall to the Tampa Bay Rays as a shortstop and was ranked as the sport’s No. 2 prospect by Baseball America heading into the 2004 season. He was the starting shortstop at the Futures Game in both 2004 and 2005 and made his MLB debut with Tampa Bay in August of 2004, becoming the youngest player in the major-leagues and the youngest player in Rays’ history.
While it’s hard to knock a player with 12 big-league seasons, it would be fair to say Upton never quite lived up to his initial hype. However, he was still fairly valuable throughout most of his tenure with the Rays, averaging 39 stolen bases per season from 2008-12 while surpassing the 20 home run mark twice. He hit a career-best 28 home runs in 2012 but routinely had high strikeout numbers.
Upton also had a few incidents with manager Joe Maddon during the team’s breakout 2008 season. At one point he was benched for failing to run out a ground ball and a few days later he irked his coaches by casually jogging around the bases on a ball he thought was a homer only to get thrown out at second base.
He was with the Rays until 2012 before signing a mega deal as a free-agent with the Atlanta Braves. He spent just two seasons with the Atlanta before he was traded to San Diego in the Craig Kimbrel deal.
Has post-season experience
Upton has appeared in 28 career playoff games with the Rays and Braves. He routinely hit second in the order and played centre field during the Rays’ run to the World Series in 2008 and fared well in a 2011 ALDS loss to the Texas Rangers. Over his career, Upton has hit .260/.316/.538 with seven homers and 18 RBI in 114 playoff plate appearances.
Didn’t always go by Melvin
Most casual fans might remember Upton by another first name as he went by the name B.J. Upton until 2015. The initials B.J. stand for Bossman Junior as Upton’s father, Manny, was nicknamed Bossman. He consulted with family members before deciding to go with Melvin full-time.
“(Melvin) was the name that was given to me as a kid,” Upton told reporters last year. “So I felt I wanted to go by my real name.”
“Most of my friends call me Mel or Melvin,” Upton said. “Nobody really calls me B.J., except at the stadium.”