LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Among the Braves’ prominent early arriving position players for the first three days of camp – second baseman Jace Peterson, left fielder Hector Olivera, shortstop Dansby Swanson – it was worth noting that only one was neither a prospect nor a player learning a new position.
That was Peterson, the incumbent second baseman. He enters his second full season projected as the primary second baseman, but said he wanted to make sure he got to camp early and did everything possible to prepare after spending the first couple of offseason months with a cast on his right hand. Peterson was an early arrival last spring, as well.
“Having all these guys here, there’s a lot of things on the table,” said Peterson, who could get competition for playing time from versatile veteran newcomer Gordon Beckham, among others. “So for me, I’m ready to go. I’ve got to compete and win a position, and that’s what I’m here for and that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Peterson, 25, had an inconsistent season after being slowed by a partially torn thumb ligament. He injured it making a diving stop in late May, and began to slump a few weeks later, though he never told reporters the extent of the injury. Team officials knew he was playing in pain and admired his tenacity, though at one point president of baseball operations John Hart also conceded that Peterson’s second-half offensive decline had not gone unnoticed.
After hitting .309 with a .389 OBP and .426 slugging percentage in a 50-game stretch through June 21, he hit just .204 with a .274 OBP and .294 slugging over his final 87 games.
“It wasn’t fun, but that’s last year and it’s over with,” Peterson said, “so I’m just focused on this year and ready to get started this year. I feel good right now. The thumb feels good, the bat feels good in my hands and I’m not feeling any pain on swing at contact anymore. I know it’s going in the right direction and as long as I continue to take care of it I think we’ll be fine.
“I think the strength is there. I don’t know if it’s quite yet healed all the way, but I know it doesn’t (ache) like last year and I think as long as I continue to take care of it and not do nothing stupid, I think it’ll be fine.”
Even if the Braves didn’t pursue another second baseman during the offseason, and have said Peterson remains the projected starter, he’s not taking anything for granted.
“I mean I know I’m the second baseman, but you’ve got to perform to stay,” he said. “You’ve got to perform to play. So you’ve got to compete, regardless. Unless you’ve got $150 million in the bank, then you’re probably OK. But if you don’t have that…. I do not have that.”
Braves pitchers and catchers had reporting day and a light workout Friday, then regular workouts Saturday and Sunday. Other position players aren’t due to report until Wednesday and the first full-squad workout is Thursday. The early arriving position players (other than catchers) have gone through informal workouts in the batting cages and on the stadium field while the pitchers and catchers have utilized all the backfields.