Dustin Peterson’s resurgence gives Braves another outfield option
The Atlanta Braves will open their 2018 season in just under three weeks and plenty of roster decisions await general manager Alex Anthopoulos & Co. Here are three observations from the past week of Grapefruit League action, featuring another outfield prospect making noise.
Mark J. Rebilas
Is Dustin Peterson ready to challenge for an MLB roster spot?
In 2016, before the meteoric rise of Ronald Acuña Jr., another outfielder broke out as the Atlanta Braves’ Minor League Player of the Year and presumably the prospect closest to challenging for a major-league outfield spot.
After slashing .282/.343/.431 with 12 home runs at Double-A Mississippi, Dustin Peterson entered spring training last season looking to force his way into the 25-man picture. Then he broke his hand.
Peterson’s fractured left hamate bone upended his 2017 production, but promise remains. Despite hitting 20 percent below league average for Triple-A Gwinnett, Peterson was still in his age-22 campaign (nearly five years younger than the International League average) and he’s arrived in camp flashing power once again. Peterson homered twice over this past weekend, two moon shots still waiting to land. He now claims a .684 slugging percentage in 19 at-bats, and his six strikeouts are forgivable with his .350 on-base percentage.
Peterson looks ready for his MLB debut. The question for Atlanta is likely a matter of when.
Though Peterson is certainly making his case to be the fourth outfielder and a bench option in a competition against the likes of Lane Adams, Preston Tucker and Danny Santana — a race complicated by the fact that Acuña Jr. will likely be joining Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis in the starting lineup before May — the likelihood of him breaking camp with the major-league team remains uncertain. Adams is out of options. Tucker was picked up this winter via trade and comes equipped with MLB experience. Same goes for Danny Santana, who re-signed with the team on a minor-league deal and has impressed this month.
If Peterson does open the campaign in Gwinnett and replicates his resurgence it’s probable he sees his first call-up in 2018 — whether that’s due to lack of production from the more experienced options, an injury, a trade or Peterson simply bulldozing his way into the conversation remains to be seen.
(The team could also choose to open the season with Peterson as its starting left fielder until Acuña's arrival, then either send him back to Triple-A to continue getting consistent at-bats or keep him on as its fourth outfielder.)
The team is searching for right-handed power. Acuña is not the only outfielder providing it this spring training.
Mark J. Rebilas
Phillies bolster their own rebuild with early spending spree
From the local perspective, it’s been easy to focus on Atlanta’s future promise as the heir apparent if the Washington Nationals ever relinquish their recent grip on the divisional standings. With one of the top farm systems in baseball, money to spend next winter and an accomplished GM calling the shots, the Braves are poised to exit their multi-year rebuild in solid position, particularly with the NL East’s top dog facing major free-agent decisions with standouts Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez. The Mets still have the pitching, but every one is chasing D.C. and the Marlins have all but abandoned the hunt.
That leaves Atlanta and Philadelphia as the two rebuilding franchises in pursuit.
Throw in potential positional difference-makers in J.P. Crawford, Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera and the Phillies should be improved … perhaps even pressing the playoff issue in 2018.
Given the offseason moves and their own collection of prospects, the Phillies have jumped ahead of the Braves in the NL East line, at least for the time being.
The Phillies were projected to be a 74-win team before the Arrieta signing, per FanGraphs, but they are now being given 8-to-1 odds in Vegas to win the division, still behind the Nationals and Mets but clearly ahead of Atlanta’s 2018 betting outlook. Barring injuries or significant development and contributions from inexperienced Braves options — which is not out of the question given their prospect pedigree — that's the odds-on pecking order heading into the season.
Peter Moylan is replicating his 2017 numbers in Braves camp
The 39-year-old has held right-handed hitters to a .253 weighted on-base average in more than 1,100 career showdowns. Moylan’s bounce-back season with Kansas City was even better: Righties slashed just .161/.244/.236 against him (.218 wOBA) and tallied eight extra-base hits. Same-side batters rarely make quality contact against the Australian veteran, hitting the ball on the ground nearly 65 percent of the time. That’s what the Braves signed him for. He can be a valuable bullpen weapon when utilized properly.
Moylan is living up to the billing in his early Grapefruit League action. In eight plate appearances, right-handed batters are hitless against him. Six outs have been ground balls, one was a strikeout.
Relievers deal in small sample sizes all the time, and it’s difficult to ask for anything more from Moylan thus far.