Name: David Peterson
Born: Denver, Colorado
Age: 21 (9/03/95)
Height/Weight: 6'6"/240 lbs
School: University of Oregon
In high school, David Peterson pitched and played first base, but it quickly became apparent to coach Matt Darr that his future was on the mound. As a sophomore, the left-hander went 6-3 with a 3.26 ERA in 49.1 innings, striking out 63 batters. As a junior, he went 4-2 with a 1.60 ERA in 39.1 innings, striking out 56. And as a senior, he was named team captain of the Regis Jesuit High School varsity baseball team and went 3-0 with a 1.15 ERA in 24.1 innings, striking out 40. He would have undoubtedly had a better season in his senior year, but he broke his leg and was only able to pitch an abbreviated season.
Key to his success when he was on the mound was his big 6’6”, 220-pound frame. His fastball regularly touched 90, topping out at 92 MPH. The pitch got plenty of running life, to the point that the southpaw was unable to command it. In addition, he threw a tight curveball with sweeping action and flashed a quality change-up. The Boston Red Sox were sufficiently impressed with him and drafted him in the 28th round of the 2014 MLB Draft. Already having a verbal commitment to the University of Oregon and knowing that he could have been drafted much higher than the 28th round if he hadn’t broken his leg, Peterson elected to attend college.
Peterson didn’t exactly separate himself from the rest of the pack in his first year with the Ducks. He made 14 starts as part of Oregon’s weekend rotation and ended the 2015 season with a 4-6 record with a 4.39 ERA. Though there was certainly room for improvement, he showed glimpses of his potential, setting the program record for strikeouts by a freshman with 81 punchouts over 82.0 innings pitched. His sophomore year at Oregon was similar. In 2016, he went 4-5, posting a slightly better 3.63 ERA in 74.1 innings, striking out 61 batters.
That summer, Peterson was invited to participate on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. He pitched 14 innings with the team, posting a 2.57 ERA, allowing ten hits, walking seven, and striking out thirteen. During his time with the team, Peterson not only got to face and learn from some of the best talent in the world—including Samurai Japan and the Cuban National Baseball Team—but he also got to learn from teammates Alex Faedo, Tanner Houck, Alex Lange, and J.B. Bukauskas—all premium talents like Peterson himself.
In addition to gaining insight from peers, Peterson was introduced to a coach that would have a major impact on his development as a player. Coming into the 2017 season, Oregon coach George Horton brought Jason Dietrich into the fold as his pitching coach. Dietrich had previously served as Cal State: Fullerton pitching coach from 2013-2016. From 2013-2016, Cal State: Fullerton led all college baseball teams in strikeout-to-walk ratio, and in 2016, the school led the nation in team ERA as well. Dietrich’s handiwork has been all over the University of Oregon team; the Ducks cut their team ERA down by almost a run, cut their team walk rate down by over a walk per nine innings, bumped up their strikeout rate by roughly one strikeout per nine innings, and improved their strikeout-to-walk ratio to be among the best in the country.
Peterson benefited from Dietrich’s coaching. “He’s challenged us since the first day he got here,” the southpaw said. “And it’s always been about focusing on what you’re doing and being mentally tougher than who you’re going against. And I think that’s really been a huge difference . . . I think it’s just a different way of working that I’m doing this year compared to the last two years. Command hasn’t been my strong suit, but I think the mentality piece that he brings to it—he challenges us every day with mentality.”
Peterson struggled in his first two starts of the year, giving up five earned runs in four innings against Fresno State and four earned runs in six innings against University of California: Irvine, but went on an impressive run beginning his very next start. Pitching against Mississippi State, the left-hander tossed eight scoreless innings, allowing three hits, walking none, and striking out a whopping seventeen batters. He struck out fourteen in his very next start against Santa Clara, and continued impressive outing after impressive outing, lasting almost a month. After getting roughed up by Stanford in the middle of April, Peterson doubled down and spun his most impressive pitching performance to date. On April 28, against Arizona State, he threw a complete-game shutout, giving up four hits, walking one, and striking out an eye-popping twenty batters.
Reacting to his game, which would have been awarded a Game Score of 93, Peterson said, “Earlier today I felt like myself again. I was sick last week doing whatever I did last week. I felt today, when I got my lift in and I got my rest in earlier, I just felt like me again. I was pretty anxious in the bullpen; I had to slow myself down.” His coach, George Horton, called the performance unbelievable, saying, “I’ve never seen a more special performance than that…That’s what it looks like when Kershaw or Bumgarner—when he’s not hurt—that’s what it looks like. That’s big-league stuff.”
Peterson looked dominant once again in his next start, but wound down his 2017 season on a downswing, losing to rivals Oregon State and allowing them to claim the Pac-12 Division Title on the Ducks’ home field. All in all, he had an extremely impressive junior season, going 11-4 with a 2.51 ERA. Thanks to all of the coaching he received from coaches and peers with the U.S. Collegiate National Team and the University of Oregon Ducks, he walked only fifteen batters and struck out 140 in 100.1 innings pitched. “Attention to detail, refining my routine, polishing up the way I go about things,” he said of his 2017 season and the things that he did differently. “From the beginning, we worked a lot on breaking everything down to its simplest form. Getting my direction to be better towards the plate. The analogy he uses is put my nose into the catcher’s glove. So, it started with focusing on that, then focusing on everything you do…Last year at this point, I was trying to fix some things mechanically, and every week I was trying to be different, trying to tweak something different…now I know what I’m doing. I know what works for me and what doesn’t work for me.”
Going into college, Peterson was a raw, projectable left-hander with a good fastball but undeveloped secondary pitches and fringy command. Three years later, he is a much more complete pitcher.
Peterson’s fastball sits 89-92, topping out as high as 94 MPH with plus arm-side run and sink. The left-hander commands it well, and is able to move it around the entire plate, horizontally to work hitters both inside and out, and vertically to change their eye levels. The left-hander generally works inside against lefties with it, using the natural movement of the pitch to make it break back into the zone, jamming them or making them look at strikes on the inner half. Against right-handers, he generally works away and occasionally cuts his fastball.
He compliments his fastball with a full repertoire of pitches, a slider, a change-up, and a curveball. Most scouts believe his slider is his best secondary pitch. The pitch ranges from 81-84 MPH, and flashes plus. Other scouts believe that his change-up is his best secondary pitch, sitting 80-84 MPH and showing excellent tumble and fade, but because he does not feature it as prominently, it is hard to get an accurately compare the two. Scouts are in agreement that his curveball is his least effective pitch. Thrown as more of a “get-me-over” pitch than anything else, it sits 74-79 MPH with loopy break that needs to be refined and tightened.
Peterson throws from a low three-quarters arm slot, slinging the ball, which helps give his pitches movement. Working with Coach Dietrich, he refined his mechanics over the course of the 2017 season. He uses a simple stride to the plate, eliminating as much excess movement from his long limbs as possible, which has improved his direction toward the plate, and gotten him to finish over his front side instead of falling off or leaking more consistently. He repeats his new mechanics well, which is what has led his control of improve by leaps and bounds in his junior season.
The left-hander wastes no time, attacking hitters. He throws his pitches with confidence, and carves up the zone, keeping hitters off balance. Thanks to his solid frame, Peterson expected to be durable and could profile as an innings-eater going forward.