Braves switched Peraza to 2B, now headed to CF?

 SAN FRANCISCO – Highly regarded prospect Jose Peraza was switched from shortstop to second base in 2014 because the Braves have the game’s best defensive shortstop, Andrelton Simmons, signed through 2020. Now, Peraza could be switching to center field.

The Braves have begun to play Peraza in center field because they have a second baseman, Jace Peterson, who has surpassed expectations in his first full season, is rated better defensively at second base than Peraza, and praised by players and coaches alike for his work habits, desire to succeed, energy and, well, for being a good teammate and all that entails.

Jose Peraza has begun to play some center field at Triple-A Gwinnett, since the Braves already have a young second baseman in Jace Peterson. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

Jose Peraza has begun to play some center field at Triple-A Gwinnett, since the Braves already have a young second baseman in Jace Peterson. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

With Peterson perhaps becoming entrenched at second base, the Braves want to do whatever they can to help pave a path to the majors for Peraza, who was batting .300 with a .341 OBP, eight extra-base hits (two triples, two homers) and 14 stolen bases in 15 attempts during 43 games at Triple-A Gwinnett before Saturday.

“Petey at second base, his emergence (has been impressive),” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “So why keep a guy like Peraza, who’s close to the big leagues, why keep him at second base when this guy is young, and then maybe you get a logjam (at the position). So maybe move him to center field, maybe he can do the job.”

Peterson, who turned 25 last month – four years older than Peraza – was batting .253 with a .325 OBP, five stolen bases and a .300 slugging percentage in 45 games through Friday. And after hitting .171 with one extra-base hit and a .239 OBP in his first 15 games, the former Padres prospect was batting .284 (31-for-109) with four extra-base hits (one homer), 16 RBIs and a .358 OBP and .330 slugging percentage in his past 30 games before Friday.

Peraza, who first started working some in center field late in spring training, played the position for the first time in a game Wednesday, when he started in center and moved back to second base late in a seven-inning win against Lehigh Valley.

He played second base Thursday, then played a full game in center field Friday, going 2-for-5 with a double while batting second behind Eury Perez in a 4-0 win against Columbus. The speedy Perez has been Gwinnett’s regular center fielder, but moved to left field with Peraza in center.

Gonzalez said what officials with any team would probably agree on: The more versatility a young player has, the better his chances of getting to the major leagues sooner. Although the Braves have also said many times they want to make sure they don’t rush Peraza to the big leagues before they’re fairly convinced he’s ready and that he won’t be thrust into a situation where he might be overwhelmed and his development adversely affected in any way.

Some fans and others have asked what will happen when Peraza is ready later this season or next year, if the Braves might move Peterson to third base to accommodate him. So far, I’ve heard nothing to suggest the Braves will do that. To the contrary, team officials I’ve spoken to about it say Peterson doesn’t profile as a third baseman, at least not offensively, and they are very pleased with his defensive work at second base.

They certainly wouldn’t want to ask Peterson to switch positions now at midseason, with him hitting well in the past 30 games and working so well defensively with Simmons. And, as I stated above, they believe that Peterson is better defensively than Peraza at second base.

Peraza also doesn’t profile as a third baseman, but a center fielder? That might work. He’s a .305 career hitter with a .350 OBP in parts of five minor league seasons, with 28 triples, seven homers and 191 stolen bases in 386 games. Peraza doesn’t walk enough to be an ideal leadoff guy, but he had consecutive seasons with 64 and 60 stolen bases in 2013 and 2014 and puts a lot of pressure on opposing pitchers.

He’s certainly got the speed to cover a lot of ground in center, and with his limited work in center field he’s already shown an ability to get good reads on balls off the bat and take pretty good routes. His arm isn’t outstanding for an outfielder, but it’s good enough, I’m told, particularly once he understands how to make throws from the outfield, the arc to put on throws, how to be in optimum position to throw quickly after catching or fly ball or fielding a bouncing one.

When will he be ready? The Braves got a pretty decent look at him this spring, when he had a chance to compete for an opening-day roster spot, and he did not look at all ready for the big leagues at that time. But that was a small sample size, and reports out of Gwinnett are that he’s hitting a lot better than he did in the spring, when he might just have been a bit caught up in the situation and pressed too hard to make things happen.

Still, the Braves aren’t nearly as sold as a lot of Peraza fans are on him needing to be in the big leagues as soon as possible. They know that there are no drawbacks to having him spend all or most of the season in Triple-A, given his age, experience, and how he looked this spring. It’s his first season in Triple-A and he just turned 21 last month, making him one of the youngest players  in the International League.

They still like him a lot, even if Peraza is not quite the slam-dunk No. 1 prospect in the organization that he was before the Braves acquired several other top prospects last winter in trades, and before some of them performed better than Peraza this spring in front of major league coaches and officials.

The Braves don’t have a left fielder with major league experience under contract next year, and they have center fielder Cameron Maybin under contract for $8 million next season with a club option in 2017 with a $1 million buyout. Maybin has been a pleasant surprise so far, taking over the every-day center field job, playing good defense, and on pace to shatter a lot of career-bests including  home runs (he already has five, and his career high is nine).

It’s still too early to know for sure, but if Maybin keeps up something close to this pace he could and probably would be back in 2016. The Braves could play him in left field if they wanted to have Peraza play center, or they could move Peraza to left field if they wanted to keep Maybin in center.

Of course, the Braves also have Mallex Smith, one of those other top prospects acquired this winter. He just turned 22 this month and still a bit raw in parts of his game, including center-field defense, but the former Padre prospect has game-changing speed – he led minor league baseball with 88 steals last season – and is batting .338 with a .395 OBP, two homers and 16 stolen bases in 18 attempts through his first 40 games at Double-A Mississippi, his first season above A-ball. He might need another year or two in the minors, but Smith is one to keep an eye on, for sure.

And then there’s Eury Perez, a former Nationals prospect who turned 25 today (Saturday) and has spent all or parts of nine seasons in the minors, with a brief big-league callup each of the past three seasons. He presumably won’t have anything more to gain by going back to Triple-A next season, and Perez is hitting .277 with nine extra-base hits hits (two homers), a .361 OBP and 24 stolen base in 46 games at Gwinnett, only a phone call away if the Braves decide they could use him.

That makes for a lot of potential outfielders competing for spots next spring, assuming the Braves keep Maybin. Smith and Peraza are big-time prospects, and it’s  only a matter of time before both are playing in the big leagues, presumably with the Braves, though either would certainly be a solid trade chip if the Braves decided they didn’t have room for both. With their kind of speed, high average and OBP, those two are the kind of pieces the Braves seem more inclined to build around going forward with the offensive approach as it is now. Perfect pieces for such an offense.

• Tonight’s matchup: Williams Perez makes his third major league start and gets the unenviable task of facing Giants veteran Tim Lincecum, who is on a bit of a ridiculously good roll right now, particularly at AT&T Park, as are the Giants as a team.

Lincecum is 4-1 with a 1.13 ERA and .180 opponents average in five home starts, compared to 1-1 with a 4.79 ERA and .288 OA in four road starts

He’s 4-0 with a 2.05 ERA in five May starts, including – are you ready for this — 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA and .125 opponents’ average in three home starts. The no-longer-long-haired right-hander has allowed nine hits and six walks with 16 strikeouts in 21 scoreless innings this month.

Against the Braves, Lincecum is 9-6 with a 2.76 ERA in 15 regular-season starts, including 3-3 with a 1.86 ERA in six since August 2011.

Braves newcomer  Juan Uribe, a former Dodger, is 10-for-36 (.278) with two homers against Lincecum. Freddie Freeman is 4-for-19 against him, Chris Johnson is 3-for-15, Cameron Maybin is 4-for-24 with eight strikeouts, Andrelton Simmons is 1-for-9, Eric Young Jr. is 4-for-24 with nine strikeouts, and Nick Markakis is 2-for-2 with a walk against Lincecum.

Perez is still looking for his first win, after getting no decisions while posting a 1.64 ERA and .302 opponents’ average in starts against Tampa Bay and at Dodger Stadium. If 13 hits allowed in 11 innings doesn’t seem to jib with a 1.64 ERA, then you didn’t see Perez’s first two starts. The dude was a Venuezuelan Houdini, making pitches again in again to escape tight situations with strikeouts or balls hit right at defenders. Can he keep that up? We’ll see.

• Here’s one from Sly & The Family Stone. They were from the Bay Area, and they were incredible.

“Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” by Sly & The Family Stone

Sly & The Family Stone

Sly & The Family Stone

Lookin’ at the devil
Grinnin’ at his gun
Fingers start shakin’
I begin to run
Bullets start chasin’
I begin to stop
We begin to wrestle
I was on the topI want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf aginStiff all in the collar
Fluffy in the face
Chit chat chatter tryin’
Stuffy in the place
Thank you for the party
But I could never stay
Many thangs is on my mind
Words in the wayI want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf aginDance to the music
All nite long
Everyday people
Sing a simple song
Mama’s so happy
Mama start to cry
Papa still singin’
You can make it if you tryI want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
(Different strokes for different folks, yeah)
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf aginFlamin’ eyes of people fear
Burnin’ into you
Many men are missin’ much
Hatin’ what they do
Youth and truth are makin’ love
Dig it for a starter, now
Dyin’ young is hard to take
Sellin’ out is harder

Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin

 


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