If a casual Braves fan were asked about Dustin Peterson, perhaps he or she would remember him as the least-mentioned prospect among four acquired in a December 2014 trade that sent Justin Upton to San Diego.
But if you’re in the Braves organization or have seen him play much, you’re more apt to think of Peterson as an ascendant 22-year-old corner-outfield prospect. He’s produced minor league stats that compare favorably with some much higher-rated prospects of a similar age taken ahead of him in the 2013 draft.
“He has a chance to be a prototype corner outfielder,” said Braves general manager John Coppolella, who called Peterson “one of the best corner-outfield prospects in the game” after a 2016 season in which he hit .282 with 52 extra-base hits including 12 home runs, 88 RBIs and a .343 on-base percentage in 132 games for Double-A Mississippi.
He followed that by hitting .324 with seven extra-base hits (one homer) and a .352 OBP in 18 games in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League, where Peterson was 14-for-38 (.368) with nine RBIs in a nine-game hitting streak to end the season.
“He’s a well-rounded athlete — he can do it all,” said second baseman Travis Demeritte, another of the four Braves position-player prospects who excelled for the Salt River Rafters in the AFL. “He’s a five-tool player, man. He’s really fun to watch and be around, and the way he goes about his business is pretty remarkable.”
Selected as the Braves’ organizational Player of the Year after helping a tight-knit Mississippi squad reach the Southern League championship series, Peterson was rated the 12th-best prospect in the league in a Baseball America survey of Southern League managers. They voted Braves rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson No. 1 on that list and Braves second-base prospect Ozzie Albies No. 3.
It’s safe to assume that Peterson would have rated higher than 12th if Braves officials did those rankings.
“This guy should have been in the draft this year (if had gone to college), and he hit 40 doubles in one of the toughest hitter’s environments in all of baseball,” Coppolella said. “He did a great job. This guy, for me, is very underrated throughout baseball.”
Another Braves newcomer on the Salt River Rafters roster, infielder Dylan Moore, said Peterson has qualities that set him apart.
“He’s a great leader by example,” said Moore, who was traded to the Braves from the Rangers in August. “Kind of soft-spoken, but he gets along with the guys very well, and the way he plays is very relaxed. You can definitely take something from his game. He’s very open about what he does and how he can help us. He’s a great guy and a phenomenal hitter.”
Peterson was a second-round draft selection — 50th overall pick — by the Padres in 2013 out of Gilbert (Ariz.) High School. His older brother, corner infielder D.J. Peterson, was a first-round pick that same year by the Seattle Mariners out of the University of New Mexico and split the 2016 season between Double-A and Triple-A. He’ll be 25 in December.
Dustin Peterson, who turned 22 in September, was traded to the Braves as part of the four-prospect packaged headed by left-hander Max Fried, outfielder Mallex Smith and infielder Jace Peterson.
Peterson has been the Braves’ primary second baseman for two seasons, and Smith made his major league debut in April and showed flashes of big potential before a fractured thumb sidelined him for much of the season.
Fried, after missing more than 1 1/2 seasons following Tommy John elbow surgery, returned at the low-Single A level in 2016 and began to reclaim his elite status. And then there is Dustin Peterson, who, by the way, is not related to Jace.
The Braves think he could be a big part of their future in a corner-outfield spot.
“It’s very exciting. I love the Braves,” Dustin Peterson said. “They’ve been very welcoming, very hands-on staff. Just good people, and it’s a great organization to be a part of. You have a relationship with all the front office, all the coaches, all the staff, and it’s awesome. You know, that’s tough to come by. It’s really awesome to have.”
A day after he told that to an Atlanta reporter before a fall league game, Peterson and the rest of the Braves prospects in the AFL were taken to dinner by Coppolella and some of his top assistants. They had traveled to Arizona several days before the start of the General Managers Meetings in Scottsdale to check in on their prospects in the AFL.
Peterson was drafted as a third baseman and played that position for two seasons in the Padres organization before the trade to the Braves, who switched him to left field in 2015. He also played four games in center field in 2016 for Mississippi and got some time in right field in the fall league.
His career-best .431 slugging percentage in Double-A in 2016 was 83 points higher than Peterson posted the previous season at high-A Carolina — where he missed three weeks with whiplash when he and several other players were injured in a team-bus accident — and 87 points above the .344 slugging percentage he had as an 18-year-old in short-season rookie ball in 2013. Meanwhile, his defense has improved steadily and he’s become a solid outfielder.
“It was an easy transition,” he said of switching to the outfield, which he said enabled him to concentrate on hitting without so many of the thought processes that go with playing third base. “I’m having fun out there, I enjoy it. It frees up your hitting. That’s helped me, and it’s been awesome so far these past two years in the outfield.”
In Arizona, Peterson had four multi-hit games and five extra-base hits in his last eight games before the league completed its schedule last week. Over six weeks, he impressed teammates who hadn’t seen him play much before, including fellow Braves minor leaguers.
“He can do it all,” said catcher Kade Scivicque, a former LSU standout and Detroit Tigers minor leaguer traded to the Braves in August, who played briefly with Peterson at the end of the Double-A season, but really got to see him and get to know him in Arizona. “He can play defense, he can hit, he can run and he has a good arm. And a good bit of power.”
His first foray into Arizona Fall League was particularly satisfying for Peterson, who was born and reared in Phoenix and still makes his offseason home in nearby Gilbert, as do his parents and other family members.
“I’m from here, so it’s really been a privilege,” Peterson said before an early November game. “My family can come out and watch and support me. It’s playing at home. It’s been awesome. Having a blast, just enjoying it one day at a time.”