Atlanta Braves Prospect Dustin Peterson: What to expect in 2018

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Baseballs and a bat sit on the field of the Miami Marlins during a team workout on February 23, 2016 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Baseballs and a bat sit on the field of the Miami Marlins during a team workout on February 23, 2016 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images) /
Atlanta Braves
Atlanta Braves /

Sidelined with a hamate injury in 2017, can the promising young Atlanta Braves outfielder make the big leagues in 2018?

As you’ve probably heard, the hallmark of the Atlanta Braves’ rebuild has been promising, high-upside pitching.  So much emphasis has been placed on pitching, in fact, that many fans have wondered if there is sufficient positional talent in the pipeline.  This is a fair question, but not one without an exciting answer.

The evolution of Ronald Acuña into a potential superstar has been well-documented.  Ozzie Albies, a recent graduate of prospect lists, looks set to man the keystone position for at least the next several years, with polarizing former #1 pick Dansby Swanson by his side.  In this year’s Arizona Fall League, young sluggers Austin Riley and Alex Jackson have proven the hype surrounding them is legitimate.  Cristian Pache has garnered much praise as a defensive wizard with a rocket arm, and is still growing into his offensive tools.  Though still several years away, he could be an eventual heir to Ender Inciarte in Atlanta.  

This is to say nothing of Kevin Maitan.  If he is still a Brave a week from now, consider it a medium-sized miracle.

One of the under-the-radar prospects in the Braves’ farm system is Gwinnett outfielder Dustin Peterson.  Initially acquired from San Diego in the Justin Upton trade, Peterson profiles as a solid, if unspectacular, everyday leftfielder.  While his overall game has no standout tool, he is a strong hitter with moderate power.  He is an overall balanced player whose 2017 season was derailed in Spring Training after a hamate injury.

Prior to the injury, he had been named the Atlanta Braves’ 2016 Organizational Player of the Year.  He is primed to return to form with a healthy off-season.

Peterson’s Atlanta Braves career got off to a promising start with the Carolina Mudcats until the May 2015 bus crash which sent him and several teammates to the DL.  His season never lived up to the promise of the .840 OPS he had generated until that point of the season.  

In 2016, a fully-recovered Peterson put his talents on display in Mississippi, slashing .282/.343/.431 with a 124 wRC+.  His .774 OPS was buoyed by 38 doubles and 12 HR, no small feat in Mississippi’s cavernous Trustmark Park.  

He followed this up by posting an .823 OPS in the Arizona Fall League.  He was growing into his potential, it seemed.

On account of the broken hamate bone in his left hand, Peterson’s 2017 AAA debut was delayed until May 19.  The bone removal counteracted the power usually generated by Peterson’s quick hands, a common fate among players whom have suffered the same injury.  Accordingly, he hit only one home run and posted an ISO of .070, less than half of his prior year’s output of .149.

The affected bone in his hand sat flush against the bat knob, forcing small modifications to his swing to alleviate some of the pain associated with the after-effects of the injury.

As a result, the 2017 season saw flashes of extremes in his game.  His ground ball rate saw a remarkable surge in the wrong direction, going from 40.2% in 2016 to a career high 52% in 2017.  DP’s fly ball also trended in the wrong direction, falling from 34.9% to 23.3%.  His pop-up rate spiked to a career high 26.4%.  

On the flip side of this, part of his positive evolution as a player had been his gradual increase in line drive rate.  During his 2016 breakout season, his LD% increased from 16% to 24%, a rate he actually sustained during 2017.  If he can sustain this rate into next season, along with correcting the trajectory of balls in play, the injury could serve as a bump in the road rather than a career deterrent.

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A strengthened hand should allow for his familiar grip to return, which should set him straight.

Hamate injuries, luckily, are not a death sentence.  For context, Giancarlo Stanton’s June 2015 hamate affliction did not preclude him from mashing 59 HR two years later.  Granted, Peterson is no Giancarlo Stanton (who is?), but this does bode well for the potential of a bounce back in 2018.  Peterson’s power is set to return.

Even with his underwhelming season in Gwinnett, MLB Pipeline ranks Peterson as Atlanta’s No. 15 ranked prospect – the 6th highest-ranked position player – in an otherwise loaded system.

November 20 is the deadline for Peterson to be added to the 40-man roster for Rule 5 protection.  This should be a no-brainer for the Braves.

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A shuffling amongst the Atlanta Braves’ big league outfield is all but certain for 2018.  Look for DP to re-establish himself this season, and hopefully make it to SunTrust Park by next September.