Padres outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. says he’s “tired of trying to live up to other people’s expectations” and intends to “work hard” and “have fun” in San Diego, Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. As Sanders writes, the elder Upton brother has long been looked upon to deliver results befitting his talent, draft status, and contracts, and he’s obviously endured some rough years along the way. But he’s still only 31 years old and turned things around last year, posting a .259/.327/.429 slash in 228 plate appearances while profiling as a solid defender in center. While the $31.9MM left on his contract over the next two years, which the Friars took on in the Craig Kimbrel swap, still looks rather expensive, it’s certainly possible that Upton will continue that momentum and function as a valuable member of the roster.
Here are a few more notes from the NL West:
- Dodgers lefty Alex Wood missed his scheduled start today after experiencing forearm tightness, as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reports. As things stand, though, the team is “optimistic” that the current issue is a minor one, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports (Twitter links), and Wood himself says the soreness is “extremely mild.” Acquired last summer, Wood figures to be an important component of the club’s rotation depth as it deals with the extended absences of pitchers such as Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, as well as the continued uncertainty surrounding Hyun-jin Ryu. It’s certainly too soon to know whether there’s cause for real concern regarding Wood, but he’s always been a player who has faced questions about his durability due to his unorthodox delivery and prior Tommy John surgery. Indeed, the statistical research of MLBTR contributor Bradley Woodrum suggested that Wood is at a heightened risk of a TJ procedure this year, as he checked in at 72% above the league average risk. While that shouldn’t be read to indicate that Wood is particularly likely to require a UCL replacement in the coming season, it does perhaps point towards cautious handling, and the club seems to be proceeding accordingly.
- The Dodgers intend to utilize Joc Pederson as the team’s regular center fielder, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register reports. While the team is giving an extended look to Trayce Thompson this spring, skipper Dave Roberts explains that the much-hyped Pederson “looks good, much more comfortable at the plate” now than he did down the stretch and remains “a plus defender in center field.”
- J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group examines the Dodgers’ extensive recent history on the Cuban market in an interesting piece. The demand for Cuban talent jumped with Yasiel Puig’s success, Hoornstra explains, but has begun to stabilize — in player assessment, if not overall spending levels — as more and more players from the island have made their way north. While Los Angeles has continued to invest in Cuban ballplayers, GM Farhan Zaidi also explains that the organization has done more to “create a stronger assimilation program” to help ensure they’ll succeed. “I think you sort of gain information from not just players you’ve signed from that market in the past, but who other teams have signed, what kind of players have succeeded. Why they’ve succeeded,” says Zaidi. “Not just their inherent talent level, but were they given the support system that I think these guys need to succeed?”
- Speaking at the SABR analytics conference, Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall explained the reasoning behind the organization’s decision to part with young talent in recent months, as Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports. Arizona was prepared to deal with some criticism, and acknowledges that it hurt to give up some strong prospects to build for the present. He explained that the D-Backs will always focus on “building from within,” but nevertheless felt the time was right “to somewhat abandon that with a couple of moves that we made so that we can create that flexibility because we think we can win now.” That doesn’t mean the team will always operated that way going forward, though, he stressed. “It is a unique model and it’s not something we’re going to practice forever,” says Hall. “It’s not going to define us. We’re not always going to look that way.”