The best of the best minor league players invited to play in Sunday’s Futures Game at Target Field are already on the fast track. For the Braves and infielder Jose Peraza, this is their version of trying to play it conservatively.
Peraza is a rising star in the Braves minor league system, considered their best position player prospect this side of catcher Christian Bethancourt. And there’s this: Peraza would fill an immediate need at the major league level because he’s a prototypical leadoff hitter with good speed, which the Braves have lacked for years.
The Braves are well aware. It’s why they moved Peraza from shortstop to second base this spring, knowing that Platinum Glove-winning Andrelton Simmons has shortstop locked down for at least the next seven years.
But the way assistant general manager Bruce Manno describes it, after multiple discussions, the Braves decided to start Peraza in High-A Lynchburg this spring rather than Double-A, and to be deliberate with his development.
“Sometimes if you have a glaring weakness at the major league level and you have a player that’s more or less earmarked for that particular position, there’s a tendency to get him to a level so he stays on the course…to be delivered to the big leagues at a certain time,” Manno said. “But we wanted to do what was best for him in his development at that stage. And it was a position change, as well as a higher league.”
Manno said the Braves knew Peraza would tell them when he was ready for Double-A. Three months into the season, he did. Peraza was leading the Carolina League in steals (35 in 66 games) and hitting (.342 batting average) when the Braves promoted him to Double-A Mississippi on June 19.
All he’s done in his first 19 games in Double-A is hit .365 (31-for-85) with five doubles, a triple, a homer, eight RBIs and seven steals. And this was with a recent “slump,” when he went 1-for-13 over three games. After a day off to work with hitting coach John Moses on an adjustment with his hand position, Peraza went 4-for-5 upon his return to the lineup. It was the first of three straight multi-hit games leading into the Futures Game.
Ask him what he’s most proud of so far this season, though, and Peraza will say: “My defense. It’s been a lot better than last year.”
Last year, he led Rome with 64 steals in 79 attempts, good for second in the South Atlantic League. Peraza showed off his blazing speed in his first inning at-bat Sunday, beating out a routine grounder to third base for an infield single. He went 1 for 2 with a strikeout, starting for the World Team at second base and batting third. He played a clean second base for four innings.
“Wow, it’s incredible,” said the 20-year-old Venezuelan, who spoke through a translator about his chance to play Sunday at Target Field.
He grew up in Barinas, Venezuela, a fan of 11-time Gold Glove shortstop Omar Vizquel and former Braves Martin Prado and Omar Infante. Like those two super utility players, who were OK moving positions when the Braves needed them to, Peraza said he didn’t have a problem with the move to second base.
“I’ve been fine with it,” Peraza said. “They told me I was going to play second base this year and I’ve been playing it all year. It’s been fine.”
And as Manno puts it, “he’s still got shortstop in his back pocket.” Peraza’s played occasionally at shortstop and takes groundballs there every day.
Showing he can continue to handle the move to second base and if he keeps progressing with the bat, Peraza could push Tommy La Stella for the second base job before next season is out. The Braves would like to see Peraza continue to work on his plate discipline, which becomes more challenging as the pitching gets tougher the closer he gets to the majors. But the Braves front office has their eyes squarely on him.
He first caught manager Fredi Gonzalez’s attention at the organizational meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. two years ago, when the coaches, scouts and staff watched him in the instructional league.
“He stood out,” Manno said. “’So this is Peraza’ It’s just the way he plays. And when you have a player like that offensively to get things going, it changes the dynamics of your lineup. That’s a special skill and he uses it wisely. That’s something we’re excited about as well. He’s got to continue to develop that.”
The trick now is not to rush it.
“He’s right on track and it presents a great situation for our club,” Manno said. “With the way Tommy (La Stella) has come along, he’s given our club a nice boost since he’s come up. That’s going to be a competitive situation, which is what you want. The more competition you have the better you are.”
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