Spring in his step: Peterson 'pumped' for camp
After missing out last year due to a broken jaw, Mariners prospect eager to prove his worth
SEATTLE -- After not receiving an invitation to Major League Spring Training last season as the Mariners sought to ease him back from a broken jaw, D.J. Peterson isn't trying to fool anybody by playing things cool now.
The team's first-round pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft admits he's been ticking off the days until camp opens later this month, eager to get his chance with the big boys in Peoria, Ariz., and show what he can do after earning Mariners co-Minor League Player of the Year honors last season in Class A Advanced and Double-A ball.
"I was pumped," Peterson said of receiving word he'd be part of this year's big league camp. "I was extremely excited. Last year I kind of figured I wasn't going to get the invite with the whole face thing, but even then I looked in the mail every day, knowing it probably wasn't going to happen. But this year I got the phone call. So I'm excited. I'm excited to see what I can go do."
The Mariners are interested as well. Though Peterson projects to start the year in Triple-A Tacoma, he wields the kind of potent right-handed bat the club has been searching for and was just ranked the No. 4 third-base prospect in baseball and No. 50 prospect overall by MLB.com.
With Kyle Seager entrenched at third, Peterson provides quality insurance in case of injury there, or he could transition to first base if that path proves quicker to the Majors. The only hiccups so far have been an errant pitch that broke the youngster's jaw and cut short his first stint in pro ball, then a disappointing showing in the Arizona Fall League at the end of last season when he admits he was rundown at the end of a long year.
"It's unfortunate he lost part of the first year because of the injury. But he's adjusting," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "The Arizona Fall League was a good experience for him. His numbers and success wasn't where he wanted it to be, but it's a learning experience."
So where does the 23-year-old fit now in Seattle's plans?
"He'll roll into Spring Training, and we'll see," Zduriencik said. "He'll play third, get a shot at first. Who knows where he's going to end up in the long run, but we all think he's going to hit. He's got a gift to hit the baseball, and that will play for us at some point."
After batting .297 with 31 homers and 111 RBIs in 123 games at High Desert and Jackson, Peterson hit .169 with one homer and six RBIs in 16 AFL games while dealing with a sore back. He says the time off this winter has been welcome, and he's used the offseason to get stronger for the long haul.
"The rest definitely helped," he said. "This was my first full season, and coming off the face injury, I was tired. When I first got called up to the Fall League, I said, 'OK, more baseball. Let's go. Let's go.' But [Minor League director] Chris Gwynn told me at the start of the year, 'D.J., you're going to be so tired by the end of this year, your tongue is going to be dragging like a dog.' And he was right."
So Peterson devoted his winter to getting stronger in the weight room and more comfortable in the field, spending time taking ground balls and working on his defensive footwork with his dad and brother in Phoenix.
He played 90 games at third base last year and 19 at first and says he's comfortable at either spot. The challenge now will be getting comfortable at the big league camp, knowing he's finally where he wants to be. Peterson was called up from the Minor League side to play a few Cactus League games last spring and showed well, hitting .286 (4-for-14) with a home run and four RBIs. He says he learned from that brief experience.
"I remember my first at-bat, I was a little anxious and tried to do a little too much," he said. "I almost threw out my back on my first swing. Ever since that, I've kind of told myself to calm down and take a few breaths."
And as eager as he is for this upcoming opportunity, Peterson knows that approach will be even more important as he works out in front of manager Lloyd McClendon and his staff on a daily basis.
"Every time I've been promoted or gone somewhere new, that first week I've tried to be something that I'm not," he said. "I've tried to hit that 10-run home run, when it's not possible. So I just need to relax and trust my skills and what I've done to get here."