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D-backs’ David Peralta enjoying greatest ride of professional life

PHOENIX — He wasn’t supposed to be the answer to the two-year riddle the Arizona Diamondbacks front office has been trying to solve since Justin Upton’s departure in January of 2013.

And if not for an unfortunate 92 mph fastball that struck A.J. Pollock’s right wrist on the night of June 1, his chance to fill a roster spot so early in the 2014 campaign might never have come to fruition.

But if there’s one thing to know about David Peralta, it’s that his journey to the big leagues was not paved by luck or chance.

He earned his shot the long and hard way.

Growing up in Carabobo, Venezuela — a town Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez and former hard-throwing, right-hander Carlos Zambrano hail from — Peralta had dreams of tossing complete games, not roping hard line drives to clear the bases.

“Back in 2006 or 2007, I wouldn’t have believed that [my first big league experience would be as an outfielder], because when I signed on with the Cardinals to be a pitcher that was the dream,” Peralta said. “I wanted to make it to the big leagues as a pitcher. It just didn’t work for me.”

Peralta made 18 total appearances with the St. Louis Cardinals’ Rookie Ball team in Johnson City, Tenn., going 2-6 with a 5.80 ERA. It wasn’t the uneven results that put the dream to bed, but rather a pair of unfortunate shoulder surgeries.

And in 2009, the Cardinals granted the 26-year-old his official release.

Tasked with finding a way back into professional baseball, Peralta sought the advice of his father. And together, they came to the conclusion he should tap back into the roots of his childhood as a power-hitting outfielder.

“I went back to Venezuela after getting released because my shoulder was still hurting,” said Peralta. “When I was back home, I just came to the decision I had to give up pitching. It just hurt too much. I got it that it just wasn’t for me.

“I just decided with my dad, I mean we were talking and he said, ‘Why not give it a try as a hitter?’ I mean I used to be a hitter. But I spent a lot of time during that period working out and getting stronger.”

After a four-year absence from the minors, Peralta returned to the United States in 2011 a different person and a different player.

But major league teams didn’t take notice right away.

In order to get a look, he first had to endure parts of three seasons playing Independent League games in cities like Amarillo, Tex., Harlingen, Tex. and Wichita, Kan. Although Peralta wasn’t exactly facing top-notch competition, his transition from the mound to the box was a rather seamless one.

From 2011-13, he hit .359, slugged 28 home runs, stole 36 bases and knocked in 189 runs with the Sox, WhiteWings and Wingnuts.

“It wasn’t easy getting here,” said Peralta. “I was working every day at it. I mean, when I was playing in the Independent League, and if I would go 4-for-4 or 0-for-4, I would still come early to the stadium the next day.

“I had my routine and it worked for me. I mean I was there for two-plus years, hitting well and putting up good numbers. I started asking myself, ‘What else do I need to do to get picked up by a team?’ But finally last year, the Arizona Diamondbacks took my contract.”

Peralta’s tour through the D-backs farm system, which began in July 2013, would be a short-lived experience.
In 52 games with Visalia, he had his way with High-A pitching to the tune of a .346 batting average with eight home runs, 15 doubles and 42 RBI.

And just to prove that his production was no fluke, Peralta began this season in Double-A Mobile, where he continued to tear the cover off the ball for the BayBears — six home runs, 17 doubles and 46 RBI in 223 at-bats before his promotion on June 2.

“I really didn’t spend much time in the minor leagues,” said Peralta. “I mean it was less than a year. But I mean now that I am here, I feel really proud of myself.”

As he should. Because truth be told, Peralta’s ascent is as improbable as it is fascinating.

Kevin Towers has spent the better part of the last two offseasons searching high and low for consistent run producers at the corner outfield positions, but he might not have needed to sell off young prospects for Mark Trumbo or back up the money trucks for Cody Ross. He now has Peralta.

Although it’s only a two-month sample size, the oft-injured pitcher turned sweet-swinging hitter seems to be taking to the role just fine.

In 50 career games with the D-backs, Peralta has been a fixture just about every night. His swing — which features a slight leg raise and coil upon the release of each pitch — has not slowed down against the game’s top hurlers. If anything, it’s been at the right place at the right time almost every plate appearance.

“It’s still a dream,” said Peralta, who is hitting .319 and slugging .454 to go along with four home runs and 22 RBI. “Two months in the big leagues, it’s still a dream for me. I’m just living my dream and playing my game. It’s been awesome for me.

“When I got called up, I just wanted to play every day. And I thought to myself if I get the opportunity to play every day, I have to take it. And now here I am, playing every day.”

He’s put up quite a fight thus far, collecting 22 multi-hit performances. In fact, since his call-up, Peralta has fared quite well well with some of the National League’s top rookies — a higher batting average and on-base percentage than Billy Hamilton and more hits than George Springer.

It finally reached a point this week where the D-backs’ hand was more or less forced at the trade deadline. Peralta’s emergence, primarily in right field, made his fellow countryman, Gerardo Parra, expendable.

And consequently, Arizona elected to deal the two-time Gold Glove Award-winner and fan favorite to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for two minor leaguers, creating an opportunity Peralta’s worked nearly a half-decade to earn.

“I have to keep this up now,” said Peralta. “I have to keep helping the team. Do the little things whether it’s playing good defense or good offense. That’s just the next step. I have to find a way to keep myself in the big leagues.”

According to his manager, Peralta might already be ahead of the curve when it comes to executing the little things — at least as it pertains to his presence at the plate.

“I don’t know if you’d call what he’s doing a surprise,” Kirk Gibson said. “You just watch him go about his business every day. His at-bats against every pitcher he’s gone up against, he’s hit the ball well… He has good length to his swing, good angle. He gets to the ball really quick. He’s pretty decent against lefties.

“His motor is always running. He has a great attitude. Excited to play and happy to play. You hope that it continues.”

There’s no definitive conclusion just yet as to what Peralta will ultimately be. Is he destined to become a Shane Spencer-like platoon player or did the D-backs find themselves a diamond in the rough?

While that question will ultimately play itself out over the coming months and years, the Arizona outfielder insists that he’ll continue to shut his eyes, dream a little larger and enjoy the ride of his life.

After all, it almost ended before it even had a chance to begin.

“It’s not how you start,” Peralta said with a smile. “It’s how you finish.”