Braves’ Peterson homers again, serving notice he’s roster candidate

Dustin Peterson is making a bid for a roster spot, though it’s his power, not bunting, that’s made him a viable candidate.   Curtis Compton/



Dustin Peterson is making a bid for a roster spot, though it’s his power, not bunting, that’s made him a viable candidate. Curtis Compton/

Freddie Freeman was talking with a few reporters in the Braves clubhouse during Sunday’s game against the Tigers, glancing at a nearby TV as he talked about how well prospects were playing this spring and how  those kids want to make a good impression.

Bam, as if on cue, Dustin Peterson launched a home run over the batter’s-eye backdrop atop the center-field fence.

Freeman stopped in mid-sentence and asked, "Who hit that? That was over the batter's eye."

It was Peterson, the same guy who hit a line-drive homer completely out of the McKechnie Field Saturday in Bradenton, Fla., where the corner outfielder had two hits and four RBIs in a start against the Pirates.

He came off the bench midway through Sunday’s game and went 1-for-2 with his second long two-run homer in as many days, giving Peterson a .316 average (6-for-19) with three extra-base hits and six RBIs. It pushed him closer to the figurative center of the pool of players competing for the final spots on the opening-day roster.

Peterson is a non-roster player and was thus at a disadvantage coming to camp compared to outfielders Lane Adams and Preston Tucker, who many assumed would handle left-field duties until prospect Ronald Acuna takes over (assuming the Braves keep Acuna in Triple-A at least until April 13 for service-time reasons to assure an extra year of contractual control before free agency).

But Adams hasn’t done much this spring. It was Peterson, 23, who was the solid prospect a year ago having a great early spring training and putting himself in position to be the fourth outfielder until he broke the hamate bone in his left hand and needed surgery midway through camp.

It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where the Braves make moves to get Peterson on the opening-day roster this time if they think he gave provide some power.

“Yeah, you never know,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “There’s always guys that get hot, and you never know. The left-field job is still open, the bench isn’t solidified. I think the biggest thing with Dustin was getting him to camp healthy. I think he’s came in where he left off last year. It’s a shame he got hurt because who knows what his story would be right now, the way he was swinging the bat last year when he got hurt.”

Peterson returned from the disabled list in the summer and played 87 games for Triple-A Gwinnett, but never regained his stroke or the power he had shown in camp. Peterson hit only .248 with 19 extra-base hits, including one home run, and had a .636 OPS.

This after a 2016 season in which he hit .282 with 50 extra-base hits including 12 homers and had a .774 OPS in 132 games for Double-A Mississippi. He followed that by hitting .324 with seven extra-base hits and an .823 OPS in 71 plate appearances in the 2016 Arizona Fall League.

His early spring performance last year had him in position to be the fourth outfielder out of camp, and when Matt Kemp got hurt early there might’ve been considerable playing time for Peterson. Instead, the Braves had the likes of Jace Peterson, Chase d’Arnaud and Emilio Bonifacio filling in for Kemp the first time he got hurt, before acquiring Danny Santana later and calling up Adams from Triple-A.

“When Matt (Kemp) went down I would’ve been 90 percent sure Dustin might’ve been the guy,” Snitker said. “And who knows what could have happened from there. It’s good, talking to him early in camp, he feels strong and everything. It’s what he’s capable of, so we just want him to keep going and you just never know.”