Rookie Peterson tailor-made for Braves’ new emphasis on speed

Jace Peterson, one of the Braves' principal acquisitions in the Justin Upton trade (back in December), posted a .402 on-base percentage in the minors last season (with the Padres) and amassed 132 steals from 2011-13.

Mark J. Rebilas

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The term "supplemental" is an apt one right now, regarding Jace Peterson’s standing with the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft class — featuring budding stars like Jose Fernandez (Marlins), Anthony Rendon (Nationals), George Springer (Astros), Gerrit Cole (Pirates) and C.J. Cron (Angels).

After all, two-sport product of McNeese State (baseball/football) has logged only 27 games in the big leagues (.113 batting average with San Diego last year); and when perusing the Atlanta Braves’ official depth chart, Peterson currently ranks third in the pecking order at second base, behind Alberto Callapso and Phil Gosselin.

Plus, he was the 58th overall pick in the 2011 draft (supplemental first-rounder) … where only 30 major-league clubs select players.

But things can change in a flash, a fact of life the 24-year-old Peterson knows all too well.

On the Saturday before Christmas (Dec. 19), one of the Padres’ most heralded prospects quickly a became a top-shelf member of the Braves’ organization, as San Diego and Atlanta engineered a blockbuster trade involving outfielder Justin Upton (56 HR, 172 RBI in two seasons with Atlanta — 2013-14) — resulting in the prospect-seeking Braves landing Peterson, pitcher Max Fried, outfielder Mallex Smith and third baseman Dustin Peterson (no relation).

"I had good relationships with (a lot) of Padres," says Jace Peterson, a Moss Bluff, La. native and lifelong southerner at heart. "But man, I was excited to be a part of the Braves. … Anytime you can come back to the South and be closer to home and play for an organization like this … I’m excited."

The Braves’ brass would likely reciprocate the heightened anticipation with Peterson, who accounted for three homers, 46 RBI, 54 runs, 24 doubles, a .307 batting average and .402 on-base percentage at two minor-league levels last season (Double- A/Triple-A).

Of equal relevance, the 6-foot, 210-pounder amassed 132 steals in his first three professional seasons (2011-13) — a factoid which undoubtedly holds great appeal to a Braves club that plans to be substantially more aggressive on the base paths.

"I want to be the best (player) I can be, regardless" of which franchise owns his rights, says Peterson. "When you’re in a trade, it’s a good thing — that team wants you and they thought high enough to get you. I just want to do what I do and be the best I can be."

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YouTube is a wonderful product, on so many levels. It’s especially helpful when accessing minor-league highlights of prospects on the rise.

Take Peterson’s custom-made video currently running on the Web. Yes, it features a lot of long-lasting family memories and a few impromptu dance numbers (sans T-shirt); but at the core of the highlight package, these things stand out:

a) The left-handed hitter prefers to drive (dare we say pull) the ball to right-center field.

b) Peterson (throws right) may be one of the Braves’ fastest playmakers, in terms of sprinting from first to third base … or second base to home plate.

c) The kid plays with great emotion at all times.

d) The shortstop-turned-second baseman may possess the same amount of athleticism as Braves wunderkind Andrelton Simmons — especially with leaping ability. (Digging deeper, Peterson may be an on-field clone, albeit bigger in stature, to former Braves infielder Rafael Furcal.)

e) Peterson never bears the look of someone who’s satisfied with today’s accomplishments — compared to what tomorrow may bring.

"I’m definitely a hands-on guy (in terms of working with coaches and special instructors)," says Peterson, a four-sport prep star at Hamilton Christian Academy and all-state performer (Louisiana) in three sports (baseball, basketball, football).

"Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it."

That same rationale would fit within Major League Baseball’s enhanced "pace of play" rules … if Peterson (who played cornerback for McNeese State football) was deliberate with his time in the batter’s box.

"We had (the new rules) in the Arizona Fall League. … I don’t think it’s going to affect (the regular-season hitters) at all."

The same rings true for a so-called pitcher or hitter’s clock, in Peterson’s estimation.

"I don’t really take a lot of time, when I step in, I’m ready to go," says Peterson, who had a .360 on-base percentage in 2014 Arizona Fall League play. "Once I dig into the box, I’m ready to roll."

Which brings us back to the storied 2011 draft class (more big names to watch: Danny Hultzen, Trevor Bauer, Bubba Starling, Dylan Bundy, Kolten Wong, Javier Baez, Blake Swihart) — a collection of friends and strangers to Peterson who shall forever be linked by baseball historians.

In one sense, Peterson’s honored to be lumped with such a deep class of first-round gems (strength in numbers, for sure); but he’s also driven to match or eclipse their eventual output in the majors, regardless of position.

"That’s just the (2011 class’s) talent coming up every year (to the majors)," says Peterson, just moments before his Tuesday workout with the Braves. Personally, "you’ve just got to keep (producing) or get passed up."