Dustin Peterson was looking like he was back on the right track in 2018 with the Gwinnett Stripers. The Atlanta Braves outfield prospect had an International League Player of the Week Award under his belt, and was amid a four-game hit streak with back-to-back multi-hit games before hitting the disabled list once again.
That has been the story with Peterson. Every time the engine gets going, something seems to set him back. Heading into 2018, he had dropped out of John Sickels Top 20 Braves prospects leading him to be one of Minor League Ball’s three Braves prospects with something to prove this season.
Peterson’s biggest obstacle may be where he fits in to the new Braves look. His advance up the ladder has continually been halted, whether it was the bus accident in Carolina or the hamate injury that made his 2017 a lost season. He is slightly better than average in the outfield and has the tools to be exciting at the plate when he is healthy. But that’s the key. He not only has to prove that he is healthy, which he was doing to start 2018, but that he can stay healthy.
He was drafted as a shortstop by the San Diego Padres, but never played a professional inning there. Instead, he debuted as a third baseman and that didn’t work out. He’s been a corner outfielder ever since, and while he doesn’t possess elite speed or arm strength, he is more than adequate from a corner outfield position. But right now, there’s no room for that at the big league level. And with the acquisition of Preston Tucker, there may not even be room as the fourth outfielder.
I saw Peterson twice this season, and both times he looked like a different player from 2017 at the plate, and in a very positive way.
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Everything seems quicker. The timing of his leg is more of a step than a slide and the bat gets around quicker and even a little shorter, more in tune with the above-average bat speed he’s been known for in the past and continuing to help him tap into a power tool that is still somewhat raw and developing. He even gets out of the box more quickly, and simply put, just looks healthy. The contact certainly has looked and sounded better.
The numbers are looking good as well for Peterson in 2018. He is slashing .289/.347/.478 and that is after starting the season 0-for-14. The right-handed hitter has eight doubles and three home runs, despite continuing to hit more balls on the ground than in the air, a trait common throughout his career. The power has led to a career-high .189 ISO (I know, an iota of a sample size, but worth noting) but at the same time, has led to a career-worst 25.5 percent strikeout rate. It always seems those two go hand-in-hand, but Peterson has always showed an ability to draw walks to counter that. A pretty 133 wRC+ rounds out a solid first month of play, even if the .371 BABIP is a little Peterson-friendly.
And now another trip to the 7-day DL. There hasn’t been much news as to the cause, but hopefully it is a quick stint and doesn’t lead to any setbacks. There is currently no space at the big league level, but the way he was swinging the bat early on, it seemed like Peterson was an injury away from his long-awaited debut.
That said, the Braves kept just four outfielders on the 40-man roster this season and Peterson wasn’t one of them. He luckily passed through the Rule 5 Draft and returned to the Braves where he was looking like the prospect they thought he could be in the Justin Upton trade two years ago. The jury is still out, however, as to whether Peterson’s future is with the Braves or as trade bait down the road. Hopefully, a healthy return will answer some of those questions.