Upton brings rare feat into 13th season

Upton brings rare feat into 13th season

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Call them Baseball's Elite Eight. You have Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, Wil Myers, Jose Altuve, Ian Desmond, Paul Goldschmidt and ... Melvin Upton Jr.?

Many would be surprised Upton would be in such elite company, but the Blue Jays outfielder joined the others last season as exclusive members of baseball's 20/20 club, hitting at least 20 home runs while stealing 20 bases.

"It's something that's really rare in today's game and he's one of those guys, which is [impressive considering] when he came over here he wasn't an everyday player," Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar said in appreciation of his fellow outfielder's journey.

Upton has had his share of changes the last few seasons, but now is enjoying his first Spring Training with the Blue Jays, a team he feels comfortable with.

"It's just a unique group of guys, good baseball guys, close-knit group," said Upton. "A bunch of guys who expect to win."

In the past three years, Upton has changed his name, changed uniforms three times and late last year jumped back into an American League lineup for the first time since playing for the Rays in 2012. The first time he changed leagues, Upton was mired in a major slump for two seasons in Atlanta after signing the biggest free-agent deal in Braves history.

Changing teams took some getting used to.

"I think for the first time, but once you kinda get into it, [and once] it happens a couple times, it's something you kinda get accustomed to, then treat it like you would any other year."

The hitting woes continued in Upton's first season with the Padres, but last year he broke out of his three-year slump by hitting 16 home runs with 45 RBIs in 92 games in San Diego. He was then dealt to Toronto, where he capped off his first 20/20 season in four years.

Upton has benefited from the roller-coaster ride.

"Having some pretty good highs and feeling the lowest of lows kind of put things into perspective and has [helped me] stay even keel," Upton said. "It makes you continue to work and makes you mentally stronger."

He'll need more mental toughness to hold on to the starting job in left field, though, where a competition includes journeyman Ezequiel Carrera and Dalton Pompey.

"I think first things first, you gotta be able to push yourself. Obviously there's that competition, but you can't go out and try to force the issue. Just be yourself and see what happens," Upton said.

The well-traveled veteran is entering his 13th season, but his teammates still feel he has plenty of baseball left in him.

"Age to him doesn't really mean a whole lot," Pillar said. "He's a guy who keeps himself in tremendous shape. He's still strong, he's still fast."

Upton knows the key to his second season in Toronto.

"Have fun and play baseball. If I can do that, the rest should take care of itself."

Mike Nabors is a contributor to MLB.com based in Dunedin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.