Peterson looks to regain stroke, utility role in Triple-A

In just over a year’s time, his study in extremes has gone from becoming the Braves’ every day second baseman to now fighting his way back to the big leagues.

Peterson is three weeks into a stint with Triple-A Gwinnett, trying to find his identity and a batting stroke that left him after 70 games in Atlanta last year. A steadily declining batting average hasn’t exactly been stanched in Gwinnett. Peterson was hitting .176 (9-for-51) through his first 13 games, though he had hit safely in each of his past four games, including his first multi-hit game and a three-run triple Friday night against Charlotte.

“I feel like I’m just now getting in a rhythm, seeing the ball good and looking to keep it going,” Peterson said over the weekend while Gwinnett played a series with Charlotte.

He’s had a whirlwind month off the field, too. Peterson and fiancée Brianna Pugh, a former Oregon soccer player, welcomed a daughter, Marley Rae, on May 7. Peterson took three days to go home to Lake Charles, La., for her birth, before rejoining Gwinnett in Rochester, N.Y., where he celebrated his 26th birthday.

“(Getting sent down) is not the end of the world,” Peterson said. “I feel like my best baseball is ahead of me and I feel good right now. Just looking to keep that going.”

Peterson, a former Padres first-round pick, was the first of the four prospects the Braves acquired in the Justin Upton trade to make the big leagues and a splash.

But this time a year ago, he tore a right thumb tendon making a diving play against the Dodgers and an early torrid 50-game stretch gave way to offensive struggles. Peterson played the rest of the season with an injury that required 10 weeks in a cast over the winter.

“It wasn’t 100 percent at contact,” said Peterson, who didn’t divulge the injury publicly last season. “I wasn’t able to put my swing out every time like I wanted to. I was having a tendency to lift things instead of staying on top and driving the ball the other way. It was sore, but I could play and that’s the past and I’m not really worried about it anymore.”

While Peterson said his thumb is back to 100 percent, he’s still searching for results at the plate.

After starting at second base Opening Day, he hit just .181 (8-for-44) in 21 games and saw diminished playing time before former manager Fredi Gonzalez told him the Braves wanted him getting regular at-bats in Gwinnett.

“I know that I’m a big leaguer,” Peterson said. “When things don’t go your way, you can either do two things: You can either quit or keep fighting. And I’m going to keep playing and keep getting better.”

Peterson said he’s trying to make the most of playing every day.

“Down here in Triple-A, I feel like a lot of guys tend to get bitter but that’s not who I am,” he said. “That’s not the player I’m going to be. So for me, I’m going to play hard no matter where I’m at. I’m enjoying playing down here right now.”

The player he will eventually become is still very much up in the air. With top middle infield prospects Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson charging up the minor league ranks, the Braves want to see Peterson take advantage of his athleticism in more of a utility role.

The Braves played Peterson in left field for four games in April and he’s played the last two games with Gwinnett in center field. He also started at third base for Atlanta on May 1 before being optioned to Gwinnett.

“I’m willing to play anywhere,” Peterson said. “To me, the more positions you can play, the more valuable you are. You look at a guy like Ben Zobrist who’s been in the league forever. To me, he’s the ultimate utility guy. Guys that can play anywhere and hit left-handed are valuable. So, that’s where I am. Continue to play hard and be the best player I can be.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.