Pioneer notes: Peters raking for Raptors

Southern California native happy to be playing in Dodgers organization

DJ Peters' .390/.482/.636 slash line ranks near the top of the Pioneer League. (Stephen Smith/Four Seam Images)

By Fritz Neighbor / Special to MiLB.com | July 27, 2016 8:46 PM

Put power to all fields together with an ability to ambush the first pitch, then add a 6-foot-6 frame, and you have the tallest and arguably most dangerous leadoff hitter in the Pioneer League.

Ogden's DJ Peters doesn't always hit first in the lineup for the Dodgers' Rookie-level team in Utah, because Raptors manager Shaun Larkin switches Cody Thomas (.384 average) and 2015 second-round pick Mitchell Hansen (.331) into the spot as well. But the 225-pound Peters is perhaps the best option, if his recent run of 11 straight appearances reaching base through Tuesday means anything.

"I don't care what level you're at, that's impressive," said Austin Chubb, Ogden's hitting coach. "We kind of shuffle our lineup, but he's done such a good job managing his at-bats that sometimes we put him up there in that leadoff spot, and we feel comfortable with him."

Peters came to Odgen out of Western Nevada College. He hit .419 for the Wildcats this past spring in what was the last year of baseball at the junior college (WNC also dropped softball in a budgetary move). He'd been recruited by Cal State-Fullerton as a high schooler in Glendora, California, but he didn't have the core classes to be eligible right away under NCAA rules.

So how did he feel going to a lesser-known school in Carson City? Blessed, which was the same he felt when his favorite Major League team selected him in the June Draft.

"An absolute blessing," said Peters, who is hitting .390 in his first professional season. "I grew up watching their games as a kid, every summer, probably at least once a week. It's a dream come true, playing in the organization you grew up rooting for as a kid. It's a special organization, a player-first organization. I'm just very grateful, very blessed."

He was on scouts' radar early. Peters played in the Perfect Game All-American Classic at Petco Park in San Diego in 2013, and then he was drafted by the Cubs (36th round) in 2014 and the Texas Rangers (36th round again) in 2015.

A year later, area scout Tom Kunis was on the case, and Peters got the distinct feeling he was going to be a Dodgers farmhand.

"[Kunis] was out all the time, and we talked on about a weekly basis," Peters said. "The Dodgers had shown some interest, that was clear, and he told me he was going to try to get my name called.

"I was the 131st pick. I was getting calls or texts every five, 10 minutes. The whole day was a blessing, I give God all the glory for that."

In Ogden, he's part of a great 1-2-3 punch. Peters' recent exploits landed him Pioneer League Player of the Week honors. Currently his OPS is 1.118; his on-base percentage is .482.

"Just hitting pitches where they're thrown," Chubb said. "And he's done a good job of doing damage on pitches middle in, and then he has the ability to drive the ball out to all fields, as we saw the other night."

That was July 21, when he homered in a 4-for-4 performance in a 16-7 win over Missoula. He also drew two walks and scored five runs. A day later, in a 12-3 win over the Osprey, he was 2-for-3 with three more free passes and two more runs.

He loves hitting leadoff.

"Actually in high school I got to hit lead off my junior year and a little bit my senior year," he said. "My high school coach wanted me to get four, five at-bats a game.

"You get to start the game off with a hit, walk or whatever. When you're on the road you get to see the first pitch of the game -- and it's usually a pretty good pitch."

Growing up 40 miles from Dodger Stadium, the 20-year-old Peters is well-versed in the team's history -- particularly that of Shawn Green, who hit nearly half of his 328 Major League homers during five seasons in Los Angeles.

Peters decorated his boyhood room with Shawn Green baseball cards and devoured the 6-foot-4 outfielder's book, The Way of Baseball.

"I remember when he hit those four home runs at Dodger Stadium," Peters said. "He's a great player. He's left-handed [Peters hits and throws right] but still, Shawn Green was the guy I looked up to on the field and off. His book's amazing.

"I've heard he's at Spring Training all the time. It would be awesome to meet him."

In June, with Kunis in tow, Peters got to hit baseballs at Dodger Stadium. It was a familiar place, but the perspective was very different.

"When you watch from the stands, that field is massive," he said. "There's a ton of history there, and you can just feel it when you're on the field and taking batting practice."

The ideal is to make a little history of his own.

"Just an outstanding young man," said Larkin. "He always wants to work. He's done a good job of managing his at-bats, and it's paying off for him."

In brief

Small problem: Chubb was Ogden's interim manager in Missoula while Larkin was on paternity leave. The Raptors split four games with the Osprey, but their second night at Ogren Park Allegiance Field they batted out of order. Missoula manager Joe Mather waited until the Raptors scored a run and then pointed it out, erasing the tally. "They can blame that on their manager," said Chubb. "I screwed that up. I had a batting order posted on a sheet in the locker room and the one that made it out of the dugout was different.... The guys picked me up and did a good job of scoring runs anyway [in a 12-3 Ogden win]. I appreciated that."

Launching pad: Missoula ranks near the bottom of the Pioneer League in batting average at .271 but leads in home runs with 51. The Osprey have some homer-friendly dimensions, but not every home run goes to right, where it's 287 feet down the line. The Osprey hit five out July 24 in a 13-3 win over Ogden. Eudy Ramos hit his eighth that night, then hit his league-leading ninth a day later in a 17-7 loss to Idaho Falls. One Osprey who hasn't added to the HR total is Andy Yerzy, Arizona's second-round pick in 2016. Yerzy (.213) was moved to the D-backs' Arizona League team on July 26.

Fritz Neighbor is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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