DUNEDIN, Fla. — Eric Young Jr. reported to spring training with the Atlanta Braves on a minor league deal, simply hoping to make an impression.
Now with opening day less than a week away and starting center fielder Melvin Upton Jr. likely out until mid-May because of a foot problem, Young finds himself as the odds-on favorite to be playing there a lot.
One major drawback for Young and the Braves: His lack of experience at the position.
The former second baseman and left fielder with the Rockies and Mets has spent just 44 games in center during his six-year career.
Young, however, isn't concerned, viewing it as just another challenge with the Braves preparing to open Monday at Miami.
"I always shagged out there and played a little bit in years past," Young said. "But, obviously, the more reps you get out there, the more comfortable you're going to get. Just knowing that I'm going to be out there, I'm just making sure I get my pregame work in and let the rest happen."
One major benefit for the 29-year-old Young is his speed.
In 2013, while playing for the Rockies and Mets, Young led the National League with 46 stolen bases. He stole 30 in 100 games last season for New York, but wasn't offered a contract after the Mets opted to sign veteran Michael Cuddyer to a two-year, $21 million deal.
With much more ground to cover in center, Young knows he will have to use the same speed he displays running the bases when he's in the outfield.
Young has provided a glimpse of his athleticism during spring training.
In the third inning Saturday against a Toronto split squad, he robbed Devon Travis of an extra-base hit by quickly ranging from right-center to left-center to make a headfirst diving catch.
Then in the fourth, Young corralled a long fly ball from Josh Donaldson with a leaping grab at the wall in right-center.
"On the corners, you have the foul line that kind of protects you and in center field, you've got both gaps once you realize how much space is out there," Young said. "Fortunately for me, I have the speed to make up for that ground.
"So, it's just about getting good reads off the bat and if I do that, then I'll put myself in good position," he said.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, however, has taken notice of more than just Young's speed.
"Fundamentally sound," Gonzalez said. "You can't complain about that."
With Upton sidelined because of inflammation in his left foot, Gonzalez said he plans to use a platoon-like approach when filing out his lineup. He'll use Young and touted middle-infield prospect Jace Peterson, acquired from San Diego in December as part of the Justin Upton trade, at the top of the lineup against righties.
Young began this week hitting .323 with six steals and eight RBIs, and a .400 on-base percentage.
"He creates chaos up there when he gets on. That's nice to see," Gonzalez said. "He's taken to center field pretty good. You feel comfortable with him. So, shoot, why not?"
Young wants to make the most of his opportunity.
"I'm excited about it. Not exactly sure how Fredi's going to play it, but it's exciting having somebody like (Peterson) behind me," Young said.
"It's going to allow me to steal bases, as well as he's going to do his thing," he added. "I'm just feeling real comfortable with where we're at right now in the spring and excited to get the season going."