D.J. Peterson: On The Mike Zunino Fast Track?

DJ Peterson

In June, the Seattle Mariners drafted University of New Mexico slugger DJ Peterson, who was a remarkable hitter as an amateur.  Peterson was taken 12th overall by the M’s as a 3B/1B and sent to Everett to play at Low-A Ball (A-).  Peterson being assigned to Everett right after signing his contract is exactly what happened to Seattle’s previous first round pick, current big league catcher Mike Zunino.  Not only were their original minor league assignments the same, but their results were equally strong.  At Everett, Peterson played 29 games, Zunino played 29 games; Peterson scorched the ball to a 167 wRC+ (wRC+ measures total offensive production in percent  above or below average, so 167 is 67% better than league average),  Zunino hammered the ball to the tune of a 233 wRC+ (!!); Peterson slugged 6 HR, while Zunino hit 10 HR.  The stats are uncannily similar in almost every way—Peterson actually struck out far less than Zunino—so Zunino’s path through the minors may shed some light on what is in store for Peterson.   

The minor league results for Zunino were stellar.  He was hurried through the minors; After his 29 games at A-, he played 15 games at AA and then 47 games at AAA before being promoted to the MLB. 

I think we could see DJ Peterson fly through the system at the same rapid speed.  In fact, Peterson was promoted to High A Ball (A+) Clinton (Iowa) to play for the Lumber Kings after just 29 games like Zunino.  Peterson had this to say after his promotion:

You can follow DJ Peterson on Twitter at @godj33.

While Zunino managed to skip A+ entirely, that most likely has something to do with the fact that he is a catcher.  The only quotes I could find regarding Zunino’s promotion to Double-A  (AA) Jackson mention Zunino’s ‘maturity’ and the desire to ‘challenge him’—so no real analysis there.  However, looking at the organization, several players were promoted before Zunino’s arrival so that, in a way, created space for him.  I don’t think that Peterson is far behind despite the fact that he is going to A+ instead of AA, if he can continue to mash.  It’s not unreasonable that Peterson could still hit his way to Double-A Jackson this season and catch up to Zunino.

Peterson has a skill set that fares well at all levels of baseball.  Peterson has advanced power and a really good sense of the strike zone.  Baseball Prospectus wrote, "Right-handed power with a chance to boast an average or better hit/on-base skill set, as well. Peterson has a simple load, relatively tight bat path, and good extension through contact, giving him a nice foundation upon which to build an offensive game at the next level. He will struggle at times with secondaries [pitches] but is generally advanced in his approach and in his ability to make in-game adjustments."  What is really exciting to me in that is the part about making in-game adjustments, which anyone who has watched an MLB game knows is really important.  However, I am most impressed by the power he has displayed.  I had concerns that his power would play in professional ball—not because I think I am smarter than the scouts, but because the University of New Mexico plays at a higher elevation than that at Coors Field in Denver.

At Clinton, Peterson hit his first HR in his second game and has two total in his first 30 at-bats.  Right now, the most glaring question about his career is what position he will play.  Looking ahead to Seattle, we see that Peterson’s primary positions are filled.  At 3B is the M’s best position player, Kyle Seager, and 1B is adequately (for now) held down by Justin Smoak.  Various prominent M’s bloggers have speculated that Peterson could eventually see time in LF and that could be a realistic option for the slugger.  In any case, we could see Peterson in Seattle early next season if he remains on the Mike Zunino timeline.

About Arran Gimba