B.J. Upton became one of 12 players since the start of the millennium to post an OPS below .560 while taking at least 400 trips to the plate. Upton, who established himself as one of baseball’s most dynamic players while with the Rays, could never get it going in the first year of a five-year, $75.25 million contract with the Braves. It got ugly.
Trying to put the past behind him, Upton has made some slight adjustments in his swing. Hitting coach Greg Walker liked what he saw when he visited Upton at his home in Tampa in January. Via David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
What Walker noticed first when he visted Upton at his Tampa home in January was how much movement he’d cut out of his swing and stance, including eliminating the leg lift and long slide step with his front foot. Upton, 29, said his swing gradually deteriorated over the past several years after he began trying to pull the ball more after his early success with the Rays.
“If you go back and watch (video of) B.J., his misses got bigger from year to year,” Walker said. “His swing got looser and looser. The only thing we told him to do — we don’t want you to change anything, we don’t want to turn you into somebody you’ve never been. All we want you to do is go back to the way you hit when you were a kid.
The Braves as a team had the third-highest strikeout rate in baseball. Upton’s 34 percent strikeout rate led the team and was the second-highest in baseball behind Chris Carter. While Upton has always been known for striking out, his rate was never that high; rather, it ranged from 21 to 28 percent while with the Rays. As a result, Upton’s average plummeted to .184 (career .248) and his power vanished as he finished with a .105 isolated power (career .161).
Upton will be one of the more interesting players to watch during spring training, to see if the mechanical adjustments help. Having lost power-hitting catcher Brian McCann to free agency, the Braves would love to gain back some of that lost offense with an Upton rebound.
The Kansas City Star has covered the death of Yordano Ventura and its aftermath in a thorough, thoughtful, respectful and admirable fashion and it has all been compelling to read, even if it’s often been difficult to read. Their latest story may be the most difficult, though it is nonetheless essential.
It covers the final year of Ventura’s life which, sadly, was tumultuous. He had become estranged from his family. He was married to a woman who, at the time of the ceremony, was still married to her first husband and whose family, allegedly, later made threats against Ventura that we’re only now learning about. This includes allegations of armed men accosting Ventura at his home near the Royals spring training facility a year ago. An incident which led to him missing time due to “flulike symptoms,” but which, in reality, caused him considerable mental distress. He was again threatened, it is claimed, in Kansas City during the season. There is also an allegation that Ventura attempted suicide via an overdose of Benadryl, though that is disputed.
Beyond that, there is an arc to the end of Ventura’s life which sounds unfortunately familiar. It’s a story of a young man whose life changed dramatically in a very, very short period of time and who struggled at times to process the changes. Were it not for a fateful drive on a dark and winding road one night in late January, they all could’ve been things that, as his career matured, he could look back on as learning experiences. Now that he’s gone, however, they form the final, tragic chapter.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Royals and first baseman Eric Hosmer have discussed a long-term contract extension. However, Hosmer also indicated that he will head into free agency if a deal is not consummated by Opening Day.
Hosmer, 27, avoided arbitration with the Royals last month, agreeing to a $12.25 million salary for the 2017 season. He is one of four key Royals players who can become a free agent after the season along with Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain. If Hosmer does reach free agency, he would arguably be the top free agent first baseman.
Hosmer finished the past season hitting .266/.328/.433 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI while making his first All-Star team.