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Arizona Diamondbacks All-Time Top 50: #27, David Peralta

Peralta’s journey is unquestionably one of the more remarkable stories in Diamondbacks history.

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San Diego Padres v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
  • Avg ranking (high/low/most common): 26.10 (11/49/19)
  • Seasons: 2014-17
  • Stats: 425 games, .293/.345/.468 = .813 OPS, 112 OPS+, 8.5 bWAR
  • Best season: 2015 - 149 games, .312/.371/.522 = .893, 137 OPS+, 3.7 bWAR

In May 2009, David Peralta’s dreams of being a major-leaguer appeared to be dead, ending with his release by the St. Louis Cardinals. He had been signed by them in September 2004 as a pitcher, for a $35,000 bonus, but his development had been hampered by bad health, with two operations on his pitching shoulder. When healthy, the results had been little better: over 18 games in rookie ball, he had a 5.69 ERA. But, already, Peralta was preparing Plan B, in part inspired by a chance encounter with Rick Ankiel: re-inventing himself as an outfielder, in his native Venezuela

Post-release, he returned there, and began transforming, both physically and in terms of his baseball skill-set. He needed to turn fat into muscle, so worked out twice a day and ate, according to Peralta, “a lot of pineapple. Pineapple is a natural fat burner.” Meanwhile, he also worked under the eye of his father, who used David’s wrist strength to build into exceptional bat speed. After two years, Peralta was ready for his baseball resurrection, and returned to Florida in November 2010. No major-league organization was interested in him, but he tried out in Cocoa Beach for Eddie Dennis, then manager of the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings of the (now-defunct) indie ball United League.

Dennis signed him for the 2011 season, but it was up to Peralta to cover the 1,400 miles from Florida to Harlingen, Texas, where the WhiteWings were located. To finance the trip, Peralta worked in a McDonald’s for a month. He remembers, “It was hard. But it just made me more determined. I knew I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.” The results for his team made it worthwhile: in his first season as an outfielder, Peralta batted .392 with 17 home-runs in 85 games. Said Dennis, “The kid was hungry. The kid wanted to be a major-league ballplayer bad, and he worked his butt off to do what he did.”

The following year, Peralta met another man who would change his life: Chris Carminucci, our coordinator of independent league scouting. According to SI’s Ben Reiter, David “called or texted Carminucci almost every day; Carminucci’s was the only scout’s number he had.” Persistence paid off. After a spring 2013 showcase back in St. Petersburg, Carminucci put the wheels in motion: “I knew I wanted to sign him, but we had to have the spot open.” Finally, on July 1, the scout called Peralta: “It was a day off. I thought he’d tell me, ‘Hey, I’m here to see you.’ He gave me the news, ‘Hey, we’re signing you.’“ The D-backs paid Peralta $3,000, and sent him to Class-A Visalia.

His rise thereafter was positively rocket-like. He played only 51 games for the Rawhide, batting .346, and the following season just 53 more for the Double-A Mobile Baybears, where he hit .297. That was all it would take. 11 months to the day after being signed out of independent ball, David Peralta was called up to the major-leagues, after A.J. Pollock had to go on the disabled list with a fractured right hand. His then manager in Mobile was the man now in charge of the San Diego Padres, Andy Green, and he recalled the one a.m. conversation with his outfielder.

“He was in disbelief. He was so emotional. He went down on the ground crying, and even went to the fetal position. That was the highlight of my career, and that extends to my playing career. There’s nothing sweeter in this game than telling someone what they dreamt about their entire life is coming true. And because of the quality of person he is, and all of the twists and turns his paths took, it was a special, special moment.”
Andy Green

It could have ended there and still been an incredible story. After all, Jim Morris, the man who inspired The Rookie, only appeared in 21 major-league games. But Peralta kept right on hitting. His career began with a seven-game hitting streak, a franchise record; he went 12-for-28, hitting his first home-run on June 8, off Atlanta’s Aaron Harang. [He became the second of three Carminucci finds from indy ball to play for Arizona in 2014, following pitcher Bo Schultz and preceding infielder Andy Marte] When Goldschmidt was lost for the season with a broken hand, it was David who took over the #3 spot in the order, and his daring theft of home on August 8 was voted our Play of the Year.

Despite his late arrival, Peralta led the team in triples that year, hitting nine, three more than anyone else. Those three-baggers paved the way for commentator Steve Berthiaume to bestow the ‘Freight Train’ nickname on Peralta the following season. Berthiaume explained, “He’s a big guy and when he runs full speed, he gets up a head of steam like a big freight train. I always think of the old Johnny Cash song, Wreck of the Old 97 about a freight train that’s busted off the tracks and is out of control down the side of a mountain. When I watch David Peralta run the bases, that’s what I think of, so he’s the Freight Train.”

If his rookie season was a surprise, there was to be no sophomore slump, with 2015 an even bigger breakout. Peralta appeared in 149 games, batted .312 with 17 home-runs - and this time, led the entire National League in triples. Following up on his Rookie of the Year award in the ‘Pitties, Peralta won Unsung Hero in 2015. Said manager Chip Hale, “He’s improved immensely to be able to hit behind Goldy now. He knows how to handle the situations. He goes up there every at-bat with a plan. He knows what the pitcher is going to try to do to him, which is completely different from the start of the year... Now he’s using the whole field. So it makes him a very difficult at-bat for any pitcher.”

2016 did represent a setback season - perhaps the first real one Peralta had experienced since reaching the low of being cut by the Cardinals. Three separate stints on the disabled list limited him to only 48 appearances. In May, inflammation in his right wrist caused him to miss 26 games. He returned the following month but after barely a week on the active roster, had to go on the DL again, with a lower back strain which kept Peralta out for 35 more games. He came back in late July, and guess what? After another week, the wrist flared up again, and David’s season ended with surgery to stabilize a tendon in it.

As noted, David’s wrists are a key component of his swing, and the problem - initially stemming from an injury at the end of 2015 - may have played into his sharply-lower stats, batting only .251 with four home-runs, an OPS+ of 86. There were concerns as to whether the wrist would recover, and if he could return to the level of play Peralta demonstrated before the injury. He didn’t even start swinging a bat until January, and David started the season slowly, hitting .178 over Arizona’s first 13 games. But he then went 12-for-23, getting his average up above .290, where it remained for almost the entire rest of the year. He finished at .293/.352/.444, a 99 OPS+, and 2.5 bWAR.

Peralta looks set to be in the outfield on Opening Day again, and has become one of the most well-loved players on the current roster by fans. The final chapter in his story certainly has not been written to this point, and fingers crossed, his rating will be even higher when we revisit this exercise for the Diamondbacks’ 25th anniversary.

“It’s been a long and hard road for me. I just want to be an inspiration for guys out there who haven’t made it yet. I want them to know if you work hard, and are dedicated, it can happen to you. It’s never too late.’’
David Peralta