Braves’ top prospect Peraza to work in center field

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Braves switched top prospect Jose Peraza from shortstop to second base last year to help clear his path to the major leagues, now they have him taking fly balls in center field for a similar reason.

Not that they intend for Peraza to switch positions again, but the Braves want the talented Venuezuelan speedster to add some versatility in case they have room for a multi-position player sooner than a second baseman.

Prospect Jace Peterson has impressed at second base early in camp, and the Braves are among teams pursuing standout Cuban free-agent infielder Hector Olivera, who would likely play second base if he signs with Atlanta and eventually move to third base.

“(Peraza is) going to take some fly balls, move around,” Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said. “He’s a second baseman. You’ve noticed we’ve had him take ground balls at shortstop. Center field — the guy can fly, let him take some out there. It’s not that we’re looking to change his position, it’s that we’re looking for versatility.”

Peraza, 20, is the Braves’ No. 1-rated prospect, but he has played only 44 games above the Single-A level and is considered a “long shot” to make the team out of spring training, according to manager Fredi Gonzalez. Hart has indicated that Peraza won’t be on the opening-day roster.

Gonzalez said third-base coach and outfield instructor Bo Porter has worked for a few days with Peraza on a backfield without the Braves making that information public. Legendary former Braves slugger Dale Murphy, a guest instructor in camp, worked with him some in the outfield Tuesday.

“If at some point we have an opening up here, maybe it’s not as the everyday (second baseman), maybe it’s a guy who can play multiple positions,” Hart said. “So I think we’re using this time here to acclimate him to some other spots, because he’s such a talented guy, and he has such a skill set for the middle (of the field).

“Obviously our priority is, he’s a second baseman. But Fredi might run him out in center field sometime, he might not. We’ve got him shagging some fly balls out there, we’ve had Bo do some extra work with him in center. We’ve had him taking ground balls at short.”

Peraza hit .339 with 11 triples, a .364 on-base percentage and 60 stolen bases in 110 games last season between stops at high Single-A Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi. He hasn’t done much in spring training, going 0-for-12 with four strikeouts in six games.