The 2017 season ended nearly as sadly for Dustin Peterson as it began. The latter included a broken hamate bone in his wrist. The conclusion saw Peterson reach base safely just 18 times over the final 85 PA (.212 OBP) with just two doubles. He struck out a third of the time he stepped into the batter’s box. All told, Peterson hit .248 with an identical OBP and SLG of .318. He homered once and one of the rising prospects in the system was falling like a rock in prospect rankings.
If early returns this spring are any indication, Peterson is primed for a big bounce-back campaign. On Sunday, he belted his second homer of the spring. The previous day, he hit his first. That gives him a 6-for-19 line this spring with a third extra-base hit, a double, mixed in. Now, let’s say what probably shouldn’t need to be said. Spring training stats need to be taken with the biggest grain of salt you can find. Just by looking at the totals, you don’t know if a player was facing a likely member of an opening day roster or, as Major League put, a guy who will be “bagging groceries in two weeks.”
Just as important as it is to keep spring training stats in their proper context, it’s also important to remember that Peterson was a pretty intriguing prospect a year ago. Acquired in the Justin Upton deal less than two years after being a second-round choice by the Padres, Peterson has always been pushed hard. The Southern League isn’t kind to many 21-year-olds, but Peterson still slashed .282/.343/.431 with 52 extra base hits in 2016. He then more-than-held his own in the Arizona Fall League, hitting a cool .324 over with a .471 SLG over 71 PA. Again, there was a lot of reason to be hyped about Peterson before his injury.
Keep both of these things in mind – it’s just spring, but Peterson has some big potential. If he needed an offseason to truly get over his injury, he’s on pace to get back into things in a big way. There is also another factor – his swing. Take a look at this 2016 GIF from Garrett Spain of Talking Chop. Remember to follow here.
Notice where his wrists are? Okay, here’s a clip from when Peterson homered on Saturday. This clip comes from the Braves’ official twitter.
Here, Peterson has lowered his wrists and created a more efficient pathway to the ball. His swing is faster and stronger.
I’m not a swing expert by any means and I won’t pretend otherwise, but Peterson definitely looks like a guy who can generate even more power now. Of course, adjustments will occur. Pitchers will attempt to take advantage of the swing by trying to get on his hands. That’s the nature of baseball and that’s nothing new.
Regardless, Peterson could still become a nice productive bat for the Atlanta Braves moving forward. As I’ve said, it’s always been about potential with Peterson. It’s why the Braves wanted him and it’s why the Padres spent such a high pick on him. Scouts have always raved about the talent that was hidden in the disappointing numbers. All he needed was the right time, the right coaching, the right adjustments. There’s a chance that 2018 could see all three.
Of course, the Braves have Ronald Acuna Jr. He’ll man a spot in the outfield with Ender Inciarte by May. There is also Nick Markakis, who is entering the final year of a four-year contract the Braves signed for some reason as a rebuild began. I have to believe Atlanta checked the trade market for Markakis, but considering how teams are signing better players for less, the market is about dead at the moment for a guy like Markakis. Assuming he sticks around, there is also Lane Adams and Preston Tucker, though neither seems like long-term fits.
If Peterson parlays his spring production into some nice numbers with Gwinnett to open the year, I could see a situation where he is in the majors by August and stealing at-bats away from Markakis. If the Braves aren’t in the Wild Card race, they may even push Markakis out of the picture to get a bigger look at Peterson. In the end, if Peterson is back and can be the 2016 Peterson – or even better – teams that passed on stealing Peterson away for pennies in this winter’s Rule 5 draft will be crying about what could have been.