Peraza could help Braves this season

sports@macon.comJune 21, 2014 

The Atlanta Braves’ farm system is down a bit. There doesn’t seem to be any future Jason Heywards or Freddie Freemans on the horizon. There are some good players, but only one stands out as someone who might one day be a great player.

And he just might be another Rafael Furcal.

Jose Peraza is a name we all need to know and not just for down the road. Peraza is doing so well we just might see him in the big leagues before the end of this season.

Peraza was signed almost four years ago out of Venezuela. He was only 16 years old, but the Braves knew they had something special even then.

“He just had the ability to put the barrel of the bat on the ball in a game,” said Johnny Almaraz, the Braves’ director of international scouting, who scouted Peraza before he was signed. “He had outstanding mental makeup, but it was his hitting ability we liked the most.”

That’s what Peraza has done since he has been in pro ball -- hit. Well, that and steal bases. It really started two years ago, when he was only 18 and hit .296 between the Gulf Coast League and Danville teams in rookie ball. Peraza also stole 25 bases in only 53 games.

Then last year, at 19, Peraza became a legit prospect. The right-handed hitter batted .288 in Rome, the low Single-A affiliate of the Braves in the South Atlantic League. You might remember that’s the team we used to have here in Middle Georgia before it left a decade ago. It certainly would have been nice to have seen Peraza steal some of his 64 bases last year at Luther Williams Field.

You just don’t see many kids play that well in that league at that age. Furcal, for example, hit .337 and stole 73 bases when he was with the Macon Braves in 1999. We thought, at the time, Furcal was only 18 years old that season. But a few years later it was revealed Furcal was actually three years older than originally listed.

Peraza is, by all accounts, telling the truth about his age. And his story has gotten even better this season. In spring training, there was a great debate about whether Peraza needed to skip high Single-A and head straight to Double-A. But the Braves used caution and sent Peraza to Lynchburg, the high Single-A affiliate in the Carolina League.

It was a good decision. It’s good for a prospect to have success at the next level, compared to struggling if a level is skipped and there be regret over making that jump. But Peraza should have sky-high confidence after what he did for the Hillcats.

Before his promotion to Double-A on Thursday, Peraza led the Carolina League in batting average (.342), hits (97) and stolen bases (35). He led the batting race by 16 points. That was enough for the Braves to send Peraza to Mississippi.

Again, this is a kid who just turned 20 years old at the end of April -- seven weeks ago.

Peraza is at it again in the Southern League, with four hits and two stolen bases in his first eight at-bats. The tremendous start has made Peraza Atlanta’s best prospect.

This all comes as no surprise to Almaraz.

“We saw his ability early on,” Almaraz said. “It was just a matter of him playing and gaining confidence in his abilities. He can hit. This kid is a baseball player with ability -- running, hitting and good defense.”

Peraza played shortstop for his first three years in pro ball, but with Andrelton Simmons locked in that position through 2020, the Braves moved Peraza to second base this season. And so far, the reports have been positive.

“His range increases and everything is easier,” Almaraz said. “He’s doing very well.”

But it’s the bat and Peraza’s wheels that have the Braves’ front office paying close attention. What’s the main thing missing from the Atlanta lineup? It’s a leadoff man, someone to set the table by getting on base and making pitchers work.

“Peraza is going to be a true leadoff hitter in the big leagues,” Almaraz said.

And it’s just a matter of when Peraza gets that chance. Almaraz wouldn’t speculate whether Peraza can make that big jump before the end of this season, since that’s something general manager Frank Wren will have to decide. But if Peraza has a good two-month showing in Double-A, especially if the batting average remains high and he steals more bases, why wouldn’t the Braves consider him as someone that might help out this season?

Tommy La Stella is off to a great start in his first three weeks in the big leagues, but he’s not a true leadoff man. If Peraza shows he might be ready, the Braves will have to find a way to get playing time for both players.

This might not happen, but Peraza is a name to keep in mind. He’s having a special season in the minor leagues, and he might be just what the doctor ordered for a lineup that occasionally needs serious help.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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