For former Diamondback Justin Upton, this time has a different feel.
Dealt by Arizona after the 2012 season to Atlanta, Upton, while in the desert, was the subject of constant comment, criticism and assessment. That shadow essentially followed Upton for parts of the six seasons he wore Sedona Red.
During the 2013 season, Arizona general managing partner Ken Kendrick called Upton, “an enigma,” and a debate ensured on Upton’s value to the Arizona franchise.
By the time of his trade to the Braves on Jan. 24, 2013, Upton was just about run out of this Western town. Though Upton’s guns were not blazing, it appeared a posse of critics were fast on his heels.
Upton then settled in Atlanta and quietly topped the Braves in home runs with 27 and hit .263 in 149 games. Though he played right field in Chase Field, the Braves moved Upton to left and he now reports there is little difference.
Yet, the biggest change is the mental approach and physical difference.
“Last year, it was a little different coming in here because the trade was just made,” Upton said before Friday night’s game with the Diamondbacks. “Now, it’s just another game and business as usual.”
Just over a year from the transaction, he’s settled in and delivered the kind of talent of which the Diamondbacks compromised. Coming into the weekend series with the D-backs, Upton was hitting .294 and that’s tops among Atlanta regulars. His 13 home runs and 33 RBIs also led his team.
In the series-opener Friday night, Upton was hitting clean-up and right behind first baseman Freddie Freeman.
During his previous 15 games leading up the Diamondbacks series, Upton hit .345 with 10 extra-base hits among 20 at-bats.
“I just love Justin Upton, both as a person and as a baseball player,” said Braves’ manager Freddie Gonzalez. “He’s a tremendous talent, very coachable and great team player. I’ll take what he gives us every day.”
Along with Upton, the Diamondbacks also traded third baseman Chris Johnson in the same deal. Johnson ended the season leading the Braves in hitting with a .321 batting average. Coming into the D-backs series, Johnson was second in the National League with a .433 batting average against left-handed pitchers.
Considering his value, Atlanta signed the 29-year-old to a three-year contract extension with a team option for 2018. The deal is worth $27.25 million with $10 million for 2018 or a $1 million buy-out.