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2014 Diamondbacks Rookie of the Year: David Peralta

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In the closest battle so far, David Peralta just edged out Ender Inciarte and will take home his second 'Pittie Award of the year. Well, he would if there was any actual physical trophy.

The voting
  1. 39% - David Peralta
  2. 31% - Ender Inciarte
  3. 10% - Evan Marshall
  4. 8% - Chase Anderson
    8% - Chris Owings
  5. 4% - Vidal Nuno

After a couple of one-sided contests more befitting an election in a Caribbean dictatorship, there was finally a close contest, and one which also saw the biggest turnout so far. Peralta and Inciarte were neck and neck for quite some time, but the former pulled away a little down the stretch, though the final margin remained a single-digit number of votes. I suspect Peralta's Cinderalla story, along with his better offensive performance, helped outweigh Inciarte's defensive superiority and overall greater WAR. But we can only wonder what might have happened, had Chris Owings not missed so much playing time.

Let's start by revisiting a story I wrote about Peralta in August, covering his journey from failed pitcher to regular major-league outfielder.

"If I put myself in that spot, I wouldn't have made it. He played there, he played here, just to prove that he could hit. He's one of those guys who encourages a lot of people not to give up. If one thing doesn't work, maybe another will. I am very proud that he is from my country, because there are a lot of athletes from my country that work so hard to be the best. I am so happy for him."
-- Martin Prado on David Peralta

Much like learning a knuckleball, a switch from pitching to playing a position is often the last-ditch effort of a player desperate to extend their life in professional baseball, having exhausted all more conventional approaches. That isn't always the case: as well as the Babe, Hall of Famer Montgomery Ward, who threw the second perfect game in baseball history in 1880, gave up pitching in 1884, and played a decade beyond that as a middle-infielder and compiled a career .275 batting average. Others made the switch at college: Mark McGwire and John Olerud were both originally pitchers, before it being decided that their talents at the plate were more valuable.

But David Peralta's story is virtually unique. He was drafted as a pitcher, but failed badly enough in the role, along with injury issues, that he ended up dropping off the affiliated ladder entirely. Four seasons later, he re-appeared in independent baseball as an ouffielder, and was still there in June 2013. making $700 a month. Less than a year down the line, he made his major-league debut for the Diamondbacks, and since then has done nothing but hit, batting .319 with an OPS of .832. Through 50 games, his 60 hits is a team record, and since the D-backs have been in existence, ranks Peralta tied for 21st among all rookies

Shouldering the burden

Peralta signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005 as a pitcher after a free-agent tryout, even though he was no slouch at the plate. Being a hard-throwing left-hander, his value was higher on the mound. "It was going to be much better for me as a pitcher," Peralta said. "At least that’s what they told me." He had a 90 mph fastball and a good breaking pitch, but he was bedeviled by poor health, needing to go under the knife more than once for problems with his labrum. Before those surgeries, he spent part of two seasons with the Cardinals' rookie ball affiliate in Johnson City, posting a 5.69 ERA with a K:BB ratio of 63:32 in 61.2 innings.

But then health derailed David's career. As he described it, "I was never the same. My arm was hurting, bothering me too much. I was like, 'I get it. (Pitching) is not for me.' " His velocity returned after the second labrum procedure, but he then developed tendinitis, and was released by the Cardinals on May 5, 2009. Many would have given up their big-league dream at that point, but Peralta didn't. "I always knew. Before I got signed as a pitcher, I used to love to hit. I made the decision to switch by myself, it’s not like anyone told me." So, he went home to Venezuela and, with his shoulder recovered, started playing center in independent ball there, along with winter league games.

The long road back

"He’s a guy who I think really wants to make it to the big leagues as a hitter, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in two years he’s with a big league team."-Bobby Brown, Amarillo manager, June 2013

In 2011, he returned to the United States and signed with the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings of the independent North American League. All he did was hit .392 with 17 home-runs in 85 games. The following season, he was with another indie team, the Wichita Wingnuts of the American Association, and batted .332 there. 2013 saw him traded to Amarillo, where manager Bobby Brown spoke highly of his work ethic in June last year: "He works his tail off. Every single day, no matter if he’s 4-for-4 or 0-for-4 the night before, he’s in the cage or on the field early." Brown added the prophetic quote on the right at that point - turns out, that was severely under-estimating Peralta and his potential.

Peralta admits to wondering why nobody was calling. "I was like, 'What else do I need to do to get signed?' My parents told me to just give it time. They said it's going to happen. Just be patient." And it did: he worked out for Arizona's independent league scout, Chris Carminucci, in February 2013, but there wasn't a spot for him in the organization at that point. So started 2013 off in Amarillo, putting up a line of .352/.381/.604, until space could be found for him at Visalia, where he played the rest of the season. His numbers there were impressive enough to merit a promotion to Double-A Mobile for this year.

Catching a break

However, he still wasn't on the radar. Peralta didn't rate mention when John Sickels of Minor League Ball covered the top D-backs prospects in February, not even in the "also" section, and John Baragona's top 100 list at the end of last season, also omitted Peralta. Heck, even Kevin Towers admitted to being largely unaware of his story. That's understandable: having turned 26 last August he was one of the oldest regular players - never mind for the Rawhide, in the entire California League. His chances of any success still seemed long, though as John noted in his pre-season preview of Mobile, Peralta "has some ability, so we'll see if he can keep going."

Keep it going he did, with regular mentions among the Snake Stars early on for the BayBears, hitting .297 with six home-runs. But it also took some fortune for a door to open: good for David, bad for the player on the other side, A.J. Pollock, who suffered a broken right-hand after being hit by a pitch at the end of May. Our outfield depth was already being tested by Mark Trumbo's injury, which gave Ender Inciarte his chance. And alternative Alfredo Marte had been sent down just a few days prior to Pollock's injury, having hit an underwhelming .227 with no walks or home-runs in four weeks with the club. The call was made to Mobile - and the rest is, as they say, history.

Bringing the Peralta saga up to date

With the season now ended, we can look back and see where Peralta stands. Here are the figures over the first 88 career games for Peralta, and a selection of other Diamondbacks - mostly outfielders, but also a certain first baseman.

Player PA AB R H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
David Peralta 348 329 40 94 8 36 16 60 .286 .320 .450 .770
Adam Eaton 380 335 59 85 5 27 31 59 .254 .332 .373 .706
Justin Upton 337 298 42 79 8 32 34 85 .265 .341 .436 .777
Paul Goldschmidt 326 289 45 72 11 43 34 95 .249 .328 .439 .768
Chris Young 310 286 37 70 11 35 14 50 .245 .287 .416 .703

Got to say, those figures are startling: through the first half-season, Peralta with a better OPS than Goldie, and almost the same as Upton? Obviously, there is a bit of an age difference, but on the other hand, Peralta started out as a pitcher, and his first experience as a position player in the US didn't come until he was a 23-year-old. That does make it hard to say whether there is any more upside for Peralta. Based on his age; probably not. But on the other hand, as some of the examples above show, the first 88 games of a player's career can be far from his potential ceiling.

But it wasn't just his hitting that was impressive. He made some outstanding defensive plays, and David also showed great hustle on the base-paths, his nine triples tying for fifth in the National League, despite not making his debut until June. His base-running smarts were already recognized, with his steal of home against Colorado deservedly winning Play of the Year. But I also appreciated the one below, where Peralta came home from third on a pop foul. Even if he was actually awarded the base automatically, due to the defender leaving the field of play, it showed alertness and savvy.

Of course, now I've written close to 2,000 words extolling the joys of David Peralta, he'll likely be traded by Dave Stewart by the end of next week. In some ways, the cold and cynical part of me can see the point, because in some ways he represents an excellent "sell high" candidate. But. on the other hand, he's also the best story to come up out of the Diamondbacks' farm system since... Oh, I dunno: at least since Clay Zavada came back from quitting baseball entirely, to make the big leagues in 2009. It'd be nice to have him stick around and develop into a permanent member of the team.

What his role might be, we'll see. We have an outfield dominated by right-handed hitters, with A.J. Pollock, Cody Ross and Mark Trumbo the likely starters, all righties, so there's certainly scope for the right leftie [if you see what I mean] to get a lot of playing time. Whether that's Peralta or Inciarte is up for anyone's guess. Personally, I'd trade Trumbo and go with the other four, but what do I know? Regardless, Peralta is a well-deserved winner of this honor, and his tale is an inspirational one of perseverance and dogged determination in the face of adversity.