by Aaron Cheris
From a young age, all Dustin Peterson wanted to do was compete.
Growing up in the Arizona desert, Peterson played football, basketball and baseball before deciding what path he would take following high school.
With some family influence, Peterson decided on baseball, and he hasn’t looked back.
“When l was in high school, l had an older brother who was getting looked at and scouted as well,” Peterson said. “Ultimately, in high school, l knew that l was going to have a future playing baseball.”
ln the first round of the 2013 draft, the Seattle Mariners selected Dustin’s older brother, D.J. Peterson, with the 12th overall pick. Thirty-eight picks later in the same draft, Dustin was selected by the San Diego Padres with the 50th overall pick. Soon after, the brothers were set to embark on their professional careers at the same time.
While D.J. settled in as a top prospect in the Mariners’ organization, Dustin spent just two years in the Padres’ minors before being traded. On December 19, 2014, he was sent to the Atlanta Braves as part of the trade that brought Justin Upton to San Diego.
With the Braves, Peterson was converted from his original position, shortstop, to the outfield. A defensive change isn’t the only challenge he’s had to face since joining the Atlanta organization.
ln 2015, Peterson was with the Advanced-A Carolina Mudcats when their bus was involved in an accident that left several players injured. Following a three-week stint on the disabled list, his first time on the DL in his career, he came back strong and went on to hit .251 with eight home runs and 62 RBls in 118 games.
Peterson stayed healthy during a breakout 2016 season, when he batted .282 with 12 homers and 88 RBls with Double-A Mississippi to earn Atlanta’s Minor League Player of the Year award.
But the injury bug returned this past March, when he suffered a left hamate bone fracture in just his third Spring Training game with the Braves. Surgery followed, and he opened the 2017 season on Gwinnett’s disabled list.
“That was a setback that was tough to handle mentally, having to do rehab every day and not being able to go out there and com pete,” Peterson said of the injury. “l just kept with the process, kept with the program they had me on and was just continuing day in and day out to get stronger. Here l am now, l’m healthy, l’m playing and l’m just thankful.”
Activated off the DL on May 19, Peterson has been producing in his first season at the Triple-A level. As of July 19, he was batting .272 with one 10 doubles and 22 RBls over 54 games for Gwinnett. From July 1–16, he posted an 11-game hitting streak, batting .432 (19–44) over that stretch to raise his season average from .240 to .284.
“Dustin’s been a big plus to our club, both defensively and offensively, he gives us a steady right-handed bat in the lineup,” Gwinnett manager Damon Berryhill said. “Since he’s been here, he’s consistently given us good at-bats in the middle of the order. He gives us good life in the top end of the lineup and he’s definitely been a plus for us defensively. He’s still a young player. He’s still working on his game. He’s got a nice compact right-handed swing that plays well at this level and there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Despite a nearly two-month delay to his Triple-A debut, the 22-year-old Peterson has adjusted quickly to a new level of competition.
“Pitchers have pretty good command here in Triple-A,” Peterson said. “Here, they’ve got it all. They’ve got good velocity, good command, and good junk. That’s probably the main difference is they can locate any pitch at any time they want.”
With the G-Braves’ roster constantly changing, Peterson has found himself as Gwinnett’s everyday left fielder and typically inserted into the middle of the lineup. He’s made the most of the opportunity, and there’s one responsibility of his role that he embraces more than the rest.
“Driving in runs,” Peterson said. “When there are guys on base, l like to get those guys in. RBls are good to have. Any time l have an opportunity to get an RBl l try and get the job done.”
“l’d agree with him there,” Berryhill said when asked about Peterson’s best skill. “When he got here we put him in the five, six hole and he’s had a lot of opportunities to drive in runs and he’ll give you consistent at-bats there. He won’t get over excited and chase out of the zone. He’ll make the pitcher come to him and the biggest thing he doesn’t do is over-swing in those situations.”
While he’s already counted on as a primary run-producer for the club, Peterson knows there is much he can learn from veteran teammates.
“There’s a bunch of guys on this team that have played in the big leagues. lt’s kind of cool to bounce questions of them,” Peterson said. “They have good approaches, they’ve been doing this for a while, and it’s good to pick their brains for a little bit.”
But even with the advice of former Major Leaguers readily available, Peterson continues to learn the most from his brother D.J., who is in his second Triple-A season with the Tacoma Rainiers.
“l have a brother who l can call every day when l’m going good or when l’m going bad. “He’s there to get me info, get me tips, give me pointers,” Peterson said. We check out each other’s videos, we see how each other’s swings are doing. lf we see something we’re doing wrong, we’ll say something. lt’s awesome to have an older brother going through the same process and trying to get to the big leagues.”
The ultimate goal for Dustin and D.J. is to both reach the Major Leagues at the same time. Throughout their journeys in the minors, they have only opposed each other once, last season in Double-A while Dustin was with Mississippi and D.J. was with Jackson.
“lt was an unreal experience. That was the first time we played each other in pro ball,” Peterson said. “There were a lot of good vibes going. lt was a pretty big highlight of my professional career playing against my brother.”
The brothers may eventually meet again in the Majors, but until then, Peterson has a simple outlook with Gwinnett.
“l’m just an outfielder. Getting to play and getting to drive in runs and help this team get wins,” he said. “That’s my role, compete defensively, compete offensively and ultimately help our team try and win.”
This story originally appeared in the July 4-August 2 edition of Tomahawk Talk and has been edited for content.