D-backs’ Peralta beats long odds
PHOENIX — The pitcher-to-position player transition is nothing new.
Rick Ankiel is among the many who did it.
So did a guy named Ruth.
Oc course, it is way too early to invoke those comparisons here in Arizona.
Way too early.
But rookie outfielder David Peralta’s play in his first 10 days with the Diamondbacks suggest that he has the ability to make a continued impact at the major league level.
After two shoulder surgeries stalled his progress as a pitcher in the St. Louis organization in the late 2000s, Peralta started over as a hitter. His long trek included stops in independent league outposts Amarillo, Wichita and Harlingen, Texas.
It has been a helium-laced rise.
Summoned from Double-A Mobile to the D-backs when center fielder A.J. Pollock suffered a fractured right metacarpal May 31 that is expected to sideline him for 10, Peralta hit the ground running.
Peralta had two hits in his first major league game and has not been out of the lineup since. He hit a two-run home run on the one-week anniversary of his promotion, when he played center field for the first time. He entered Wednesday with a slash line of .361/.361/.528, with three doubles and one homer and has hit safely in eight of his first nine games.
"It feels like it’s still a dream, and I don’t want to wake up," said Peralta, a 26-year-old Venezuelan.
Peralta is modest and soft-spoken, and he is just fine if the spotlight is directed elsewhere. His determination and desire are not far from the surface, however, and it is clear he could not have gotten this far without them.
Signed by St. Louis a month after his 17th birthday as a free agent out of Venezuela in 2004, Peralta spent five seasons as a left-handed pitcher in the Cardinals’ system. He played parts of 2006-07 at Johnson City, Tenn., in the Class A Appalachian League before his shoulder problems cropped up. He had a surgery to clean up his left labrum in 2007 that did not go well, so he had another in 2008. His velocity returned to 90 mph after the second surgery, but he developed tendinitis in the spring of 2009 and was released on May 5.
"I remember that day," he said.
It can be hailed as a beginning, not an end. Peralta simply took up another tool and kept working.
"When you sign as a kid, your dream is to make it to the big leagues," Peralta said. "So that was my dream. I was thankful to my parents, my family. They always supported me. I told them I’m going to try hitting, let’s see what happens. I’m never going to give up."
If I put myself in that spot, I wouldn’t have made it. He played there, he played here, just to prove that he could hit. He’s one of those guys who encourages a lot of people not to give up. If one thing doesn’t work, maybe another will.
Like a lot of premier athletes, Peralta played the field and pitched as a kid, so he basically returned to his roots. His shoulder healthy again, Peralta began playing center field in an independent league back home in Venezuela, where he also played winter ball. He moved to Florida a short time later, and in 2011, he hooked up with Rio Grande Valley of the independent North American Baseball League, where he really took off.
A left-hander hitter, Peralta hit .392 with 17 homers and 81 RBIs in 85 games that season, and his numbers were similar if not quite as high the next season at Wichita of the independent American Association. By then he had created a buzz around the league, and Laredo manager Pete Incavigilia and pitching coach Bill Bryk Jr. noticed. Incaviglia saw a talented hitter with a short, powerful stroke. Bryk is the son of D-backs special assistant Bill Bryk, and he has the family gene for identifying talent.
D-backs independent league scout Chris Carminucci personally worked out Peralta in St. Petersburg, Fla., in February 2013 and came away with the belief that he had a player. All that was left was finding Peralta a place in the organization. There was none immediately available, so Peralta returned to the American Association with Amarillo. As soon as the D-backs had an opening, they signed him and sent him to Class A Visalia, where he hit .346 with eight homers and 42 RBI in 51 games.
"He can hit the inside fastball," said Carminucci, who has experience as a player, manager and owner in the independent leagues. "A lot of guys in the independent leagues can’t do that. That’s why they are there. And he has a quite confidence about him."
Peralta opened this season at Class AA Mobile and was tied with Cubs’ top prospect Kris Bryant for the RBI lead at 46 when he was promoted. That is the same same Bryant who signed for a $6.7 million bonus as the second player taken in the 2013 draft, tied with a player who had been making $700 a month in the independent leagues.
"It was good motivation for me. I wanted to say to him, ‘Hey, take it easy,’" Peralta said of the RBI race.
His numbers have continued in a short sample size with the D-backs, but the thing that may have impressed manager Kirk Gibson and hitting coach Turner Ward most about Peralta was the approach he took to the plate against Cincinnati left-hander Aroldis Chapman in the fourth at-bat of his career. Chapman came in with fastballs measured at 99, 102 and 103 mph, and Peralta did not flinch.
"’Wow,’" Gibson said. "He hung right in there and took a hell of a swing. It’s a good sign. We’ll see. He’s a very aggressive kid. He has some sock in his bat. He barrels the ball. He hustles everywhere he goes. He plays hard. He’s done well. He’s young in the major leagues. We’ll see if he is able to keep making adjustments."
The D-backs set a major league record that day when Ender Inciarte, Miguel Montero, Gerardo Parra, Martin Prado and Peralta hit safely, the first time five Venezuelan starters had done in one game.
Prado is taken by Peralta’s story of rebirth.
"If I put myself in that spot, I wouldn’t have made it," Prado said. "He played there, he played here, just to prove that he could hit. He’s one of those guys who encourages a lot of people not to give up. If one thing doesn’t work, maybe another will. I am very proud that he is from my country, because there are a lot of athletes from my country that work so hard to be the best. I am so happy for him."
When Peralta signed with the D-backs in 2013, he told Carminucci: "I’m not going to let you down."
Carminucci texted Peralta on June 1 to congratulate him on making the majors.
"See," Peralta sent back," I told you so."
The long road, the outsized odds, seemed to mean nothing to Peralta.
"That was my goal," Peralta said.
"I was going to make it. I was going to fight for it."