Jury’s out on Peterson, but Braves officials like what they see

When Jace Peterson hit .309 with a .389 on-base percentage, 16 extra-base hits and 29 RBIs during a 50-game stretch through June 21, plenty of initially skeptical fans and others began to see why Peterson’s stock had ascended so much that Braves officials looked for another position for prospect Jose Peraza, who eventually was traded.

Then Peterson hit .184 with a .249 OBP over his next 54 games, and a lot of people began to have questions.

So where are the Braves now with Peterson, 25, the former Padres prospect who has had five hits in the past two games to boost his average to .244 with a .316 OBP, 30 extra-base hits (five homers) and 50 RBIs in his first full season in the majors?

“He’s a young player. There’s so much to like about the guy,” said John Hart, Braves president of baseball operations. “He’s a winning guy. Defensively he’s been really a plus-player. The offensive struggles of the second half are real. We see them. And he’s being evaluated as well. But we just trust that makeup component. … We trust that he’s going be a better player next year. He’s going to have a better feel for it next year. That he can be a winning piece for us.”

Hart acquired Peterson and three other prospects – pitcher Max Fried, center fielder Mallex Smith, infielder Dustin Peterson — in a December trade for slugger Justin Upton. “I think he’s a winning player. Is he going to be a star? Jury’s out,” Hart said. “With the offensive struggles, we’re going to have to see. But there still is a lot to like, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in Jace.”

Peterson also has plenty of confidence. He’s quiet in the clubhouse and always deflects attention or credits teammates. But make no mistake, the former two-sport standout from Lake Charles, La., who was a starting safety on the McNeese State football team, believes in himself.

“I think I’ve hit some balls good,” Peterson said of a recent sub-.200 stretch at the plate. “For whatever reason I haven’t got a lot (of hits) to fall, but I feel good. The main thing for me is cutting down on strikeouts. … I shouldn’t strike out 100 times in a year. (He has 101 strikeouts in 501 plate appearances). Other than that, I think that approach-wise, it’s where it needs to be. I really don’t think I’ve done an amazing job, but I think I’ve done a pretty solid, consistent job.”

Asked if his stats during the 50-game hot streak were indicative of the hitter he believes he can be, Peterson said, “Yeah. The numbers that I put up in my minor-league career is the type of player that I am.” He hit .287 with a .381 OBP, 120 extra-base hits, a .411 slugging percentage and 148 stolen bases in 389 minor-league games.

“I know and truly believe I can hit .300 in this league,” he said. “Until then I’m just going to continue to put in the work. The pitchers at this level are the best in the world. Defenders at this level are the best in the world.”

Braves veteran players and coaches began praising Peterson early in spring training, and haven’t stopped. They appreciate his attitude and the way he carries himself. He credits many veterans for helping him, particularly Jonny Gomes and Nick Markakis.

“Jonny Gomes has been very influential since Day 1 in spring training for me,” Peterson said. “He’s a guy that I kind of gravitate to and really pick his brain, along with Markakis. He’s been tremendously helpful to me. All of them. They’re just guys who’ve done it the right way for a long time, and they get rewarded for it in the end; that’s why they play 10 years. For me, that’s what I want to ultimately do, so I’m going to do everything I can to do what they did, to get where they’re at.”

Gomes took on a mentor role with Peterson in the spring.

“Still asking questions, still wanting to learn, still wanting to soak things up,” Gomes said. “I’ve seen at times, about right now is when (some young players believe) they’ve got it all figured out.”

Peterson said his friendship with Gomes is something he’ll always remember.

“He is the best teammate I’ve ever played with in my career so far. There’s probably not a better teammate out there than Jonny Gomes,” Peterson said.

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