ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The future is bright for D.J. Peterson.
And today in Minneapolis, Peterson will do something no other former UNM baseball player has ever done.
Peterson, who became the highest-drafted baseball player ever from the University of New Mexico when the Seattle Mariners picked him 12th overall in 2013, will be the first ex-Lobo to play in the Futures Game – an annual All-Star contest that was first played in 1999 featuring the top players throughout the minor leagues.
“It’s amazing,” Peterson said. “It’s a dream come true. This is something all minor leaguers strive to play in. It’s definitely a great opportunity for me and I feel very, very blessed to be one of the prospects chosen to play in the Futures Game.”
When Peterson steps on Target Field today for Team U.S., he’ll be surrounded by and playing against some of MLB’s top prospects.
But in his first full year of professional baseball, Peterson has more than proved he deserves a place among baseball’s elite youngsters.
Through Friday, Peterson was hitting .319 with 21 home runs and 80 RBIs in 80 games this season.
His 21 homers are the 12th most in all of the minors, and his 80 RBIs are one off the lead throughout all of the minor leagues, behind Kris Bryant, the Chicago Cubs’ top prospect and the No. 2 overall prospect in baseball according to Baseball America’s Midseason Top 50 list.
Bryant will be Peterson’s teammate today.
“Kris Bryant is one of the best hitters I’ve seen, so it feels good to be up there with him in numbers,” Peterson said. ” I just hope I can continue to keep this year going on and show this organization that I’m ready for whatever they have planned for me.”
On June 23, Peterson found out the Mariners had a new plan for him. The 22-year-old third basemen was promoted from High Class-A High Desert to Double-A Jackson in the Southern League.
“I’ve kind of been striving to get promoted the whole year and working my tail off to show the organization that I’m ready to move up,” Peterson said. “It’s been a lot of hard work, working on my defense, working on my plate approach.”
In the 65 games prior to jumping a level, Peterson hit .326 with 18 homers and 73 RBIs with High Desert. Those numbers are even more impressive considering Peterson got off to an admittedly slow start – his batting average was under .280, and he had hit only two home runs through 37 games.
“I was just trying to do a little too much at the beginning of the year,” Peterson said. “I was trying to do some things that I was not able to do. I was trying to hit the ball 500 feet instead of just having fun and hitting line drives and letting home runs happen.”
Sixteen home runs happened for Peterson in his next 28 games for High Desert, and he has continued to produce for Jackson – hitting .290 with three home runs and seven RBIs in his first 15 games.
The day after Peterson was promoted, he learned of his selection to the Futures Game. But it wasn’t until a phone interview with the Journal on Thursday that Peterson learned he is the first Lobo ever chosen for the game.
“It makes me feel good,” Peterson said. “It makes me feel like I’m doing something to resemble what I was taught at the University of New Mexico by head coach Ray Birmingham. I’m glad to have the chance to represent our university and all the athletic programs.”
And while Peterson was surprised, his coach at UNM is beaming over 4,500 miles away.
“D.J. is a great talent. Being named to the Futures Game makes our program proud,” Birmingham said via text message from Amsterdam, where he is serving as hitting coach with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. “D.J. has the potential to be a big name in the big leagues for a long time.”
The Futures Game not only serves as a showcase, but it also has been a springboard to bigger things for many of the prospects who have played in the game.
According to MLB.com, 115 Futures Game players have gone on to play in the Major League All-Star Game.
The teams – U.S. and World – are selected by MLB, the MLB Scouting Bureau, MLB.com, Baseball America and the 30 MLB teams. Each team has a 25-man roster made up of players from all full-season minor leagues. Every MLB team in represented.
Other big-name prospects playing with or against Peterson today include Joey Gallo (No. 4 on Baseball America’s Midseason Top 50 list), Javier Baez (No. 7), Lucas Giolito (No. 11) and Dodgers prospect Corey Seager (No. 16), whose brother Kyle is an All-Star third baseman for Seattle.
Peterson, No. 46 on Baseball America’s list, is looking forward to the chance to play in the star-studded field in front of a national TV audience in a big-league ballpark,
“I want to say I’m going to be nervous but I think once I get through hitting BP, all the nerves are going to go away,” Peterson said.
“I’ll just relax and have fun and enjoy the experience.”
SWIHART: Peterson isn’t the only player with New Mexico ties who will be busy over the All-Star break.
Blake Swihart, a 2011 graduate of Cleveland High School, was selected to play in the 2014 Eastern League All-Star Game on Wednesday in Curve, Pa.
Swihart, who was picked 26th overall in the 2011 MLB draft by the Boston Red Sox, is hitting .292 with nine home runs and 46 RBIs this season with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs.
Swihart was recently rated as the 14th best prospect overall and the top catcher in the minors by Baseball America.