Braves’ Peterson could be prepping for utility role

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Playing last year’s Braves starting second baseman Jace Peterson at multiple positions this spring has less to do with Atlanta’s future middle infield duo Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson being in camp than it does having several other versatile veterans.

The signings of Gordon Beckham and Emilio Bonifacio and re-signing of Kelly Johnson gives Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez the flexibility to use left-righty matchups or potential platoons at second base and third base. They also return Daniel Castro, a middle-infield defensive standout, who could shuttle between Triple-A and the majors.

Gonzalez believes the options will help the team and could put Peterson in better position to succeed than last year, when the left-handed hitter was not only slowed by a thumb injury for much of his first full season in the majors, but also, in Gonzalez’s opinion, might have struggled at times due to matchups.

Gonzalez played Peterson against a lot of tough lefty pitchers when the manager didn’t think the Braves had better options that day. This season, they should have options led by Beckham, 29, a former University of Georgia standout trying to revive his career back home after falling well short of the expectations others had for him since the White Sox drafted him with the eighth overall pick in 2008.

Right-handed hitting Beckham could split duties with Peterson at second base, or those two and Johnson all could be at least part-time options at third base if Adonis Garcia’s offense can’t offset his suspect defense at that position. Beckham might even be considered for primary second-base duties if he has a good camp.

Gonzalez said at the beginning of camp he didn’t see any reason Peterson wouldn’t remain the lineup regular at second base. Judging by the number of positions Peterson has played so far in spring-training games – second base, shortstop, third base and left field – as well as Gonzalez’s comments this week, it would appear that’s changed.

“(Second base) is still open for me,” Gonzalez said. “If Beckham swings the bat, you’ve got to try to get him at-bats some place. It’s not a straight (second-base) platoon….

“I’m just trying to get (Peterson) in some places where I can get him some at-bats and get Beckham some at-bats “

There’s another unspoken reason for Peterson playing multiple positions in spring training: If the Braves trade Johnson to a contender again in July as they did a year ago, Peterson could move into that role.

For his part, Peterson, 25, has said all the right things: that the more positions he can play, the more he’ll get to play and the more value he’ll have, etc. He played multiple positions coming up with the Padres before being traded to the Braves after the 2014 season.

If Peterson has a long-term role with the Braves – coaches, teammates and team officials all love the hard-working former college two-sport athlete – then it’s most likely as a utility man, since Swanson and Albies could be entrenched at the shortstop and second-base positions in another year or two.

For now, even before those two elite prospects reach the majors, the Braves have a lot more options for the infield positions than they did a year ago.

“You’ve got Peterson, you’ve got Beckham, you’ve got Castro,” Gonzalez said. “Petey’s left-handed; the other two guys are right-handed. Garcia is right-handed. So, places where you could play him and get some at-bats, I’ll do that. Get all those guys some at-bats, especially in spring training.

“But going forward, they’re all good National League baseball players that you could move around. Petey’s a natural shortstop; he looked OK (at shortstop Sunday), made a couple of nice plays. I’m just trying to get him in places where I can get him some at-bats, get Beckham some at-bats, looking forward.”