SEATTLE — It’s no secret the Seattle Mariners aren’t an offensive juggernaut by any standard.
DJ Peterson believes he’s the type of player who can make them one.
The Mariners selected the 21-year-old University of New Mexico third baseman with the 12th pick in Thursday’s 2013 Major League Baseball first-year player draft. He plans to be the type of player Seattle hasn’t had in a while – a fearsome, power bat.
“I’m going to come hit for power,” Peterson said via conference call from his home in Arizona. “I’m going to drive in a lot of runs for the Seattle Mariners, and I’m going to hit a lot of home runs. I look forward to this opportunity.”
The Mariners also selected Stanford right fielder Austin Wilson, snagging the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder with the 49th pick.
But Peterson was Seattle’s highlight pick, with draft analysts such as ESPN’s Keith Law and Baseball America’s Conor Glassey dubbing Peterson as one of the top all-around hitting talents in the draft.
His coach at New Mexico, Ray Birmingham, considers him a lot like an iconic former Mariner.
“One of my favorite players was Edgar Martinez, and DJ’s got the capabilities to be just like Edgar and hit to the opposite field gap a lot,” Birmingham said. “He is capable of hitting the down the right-field line, then hitting a home run the next at bat.
“He can wield a bat. That kind of combination doesn’t normally show up together. But he’s got it.”
Peterson batted .408 with 18 home runs for the Lobos this year – a top-five NCAA Division I mark in both categories – and earned the Mountain West Conference triple crown for the second straight year after hitting .419 with 17 homers as a sophomore. He set an NCAA single-season freshman record
with 32 doubles in 2011.
“We are really happy to have a hitter like DJ become a Seattle Mariner,” said Tom McNamara, the Mariners’ scouting director. “We had a lot of high-fives in that room with that selection.”
The Mariners actually tried to get him three years ago — with pick No. 1,002.
Seattle selected Peterson in the 33rd round as a 190-pound shortstop out of Gilbert (Ariz.) High School in 2010. But he didn’t sign and decided to honor his letter of intent to play at the University of Arizona, until the Wildcats decided they couldn’t afford scholarships for both him and an incoming Kentucky transfer. So Peterson ended up at New Mexico, where he waited for another opportunity to enter the draft.
“I think it was better for both of us,” Peterson said. “They saw that I needed to work on some things and ultimately they were right. And they saw improvements on what I needed to work on and they gave me another chance this time around.”
Peterson said he didn’t find out the Mariners were selecting him for the second time in three years until MLB commissioner Bud Selig announced his name.
“My adviser played a little trick on me and didn’t tell me where I was going before they made the pick,” said Peterson, whose brother, Dustin, went 50th overall to the San Diego Padres as a high school prospect. “I knew the Mariners liked me, I just didn’t know how much. So it was a little bit of a surprise, but not much, kind of mixed emotions, but I’m extremely happy to be a Seattle Mariner.”
Peterson played at third base in the Lobos’ first 19 games this season before injuries forced Birmingham to ask his star slugger to make a shift to first, where he said Peterson played for the final 42 games.
“He said, ‘If it’s for the team, I’ll do it,’ ” Birmingham said. “There’s not many kids sitting on a No. 1 draft pick that would do that.”
But Peterson was adamant he plans to prove he’s a third baseman.
“I think people don’t understand how bad I want to play third base and how bad I’m going to prove it to everyone that I am a third baseman,” Peterson said. “I think a lot of people in the draft misunderstood what I played position-wise – first, third, left. But I think I’m going to go out and show them that I’m a third baseman.
“But if they told me, ‘We want you to slide to first to get to the big leagues,’ it’s what I would do.”
Birmingham saw plenty of big things from Peterson the past three years. He said he doesn’t expect that to stop for him at the big league level.
“He’s got a lot of energy and a good sense of humor,” Birmingham said. “But he knows that just because he got drafted in the first round doesn’t mean he’s automatically there.
“He’ll end up being a great player, but he’ll also be a guy that the fans fall in love with.”TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @Cotterill44