LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Though Jace Peterson essentially secured a spot in Atlanta's starting lineup during the first week of the Grapefruit League season, he never allowed himself to make any assumptions until this past week, when Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez informed him that he would indeed start the regular season as the club's everyday second baseman.
"I don't think I ever got the sense it was a 'for sure' thing," Peterson said. "I just kept going about my business and kept trying to play. It wasn't until a couple days ago, that I got wind that it might happen, and I'm just excited. I'm looking forward to the season."
When the Braves open the season on Monday afternoon in Miami, Peterson will be manning the second-base position and filling the second spot in Atlanta's lineup. His impressive performance during Spring Training seemingly exceeded most of the expectations that were set when he was acquired via the four-player package the Padres provided in exchange for Justin Upton in December.
"Is there anybody that doesn't like Jace Peterson?" Gonzalez said recently, alluding to the ease his second baseman experienced while gaining acceptance in his new environment. "He's an athlete who plays the game with great energy. He can do a lot of things for you with bat, glove and legs."
There is no doubt that highly-regarded pitching prospect Max Fried was the centerpiece of the package the Braves received for Upton. But as Fried recovers from Tommy John surgery this year and then extends his development with the hope of joining Atlanta's rotation in 2017, Peterson will be attempting to provide immediate value to the Braves, who were not the only club that coveted his athleticism and versatility.
When the Braves asked about acquiring Yovani Gallardo in January, the Brewers asked for Peterson in exchange. But despite having a need to add a proven veteran starting pitcher at the time, Atlanta's front office decided it was best to keep the young infielder, who had not been given much of a chance to prove himself at the Major League level with the Padres.
Though he compiled a .300 batting average at each of the three Minor League levels he experienced while quickly rising through the Padres' farm system the past two seasons, Peterson batted just .113 in the 53 at-bats he compiled while playing 24 games with San Diego in 2014. Thus, it was initially assumed Alberto Callaspo or Phil Gosselin would begin this season as Atlanta's starting second baseman.
But it did not take Peterson long to prove he was better both offensively and defensively than Callaspo and Gosselin, who will both begin the season on Atlanta's bench. Peterson ended up batting .328 with a .419 on-base percentage and three stolen bases in the 24 games he played during this year's Grapefruit League season. The 25-year-old Louisiana native has shown steady improvement since ending his days as a defensive back at McNeese State University to focus all of his attention on baseball.
"I came in here not knowing really what the situation would be," Peterson said. "I just put my focus on playing and getting better every day. Wherever I was whenever camp ended, I was going to be happy. I was happy with every bit of it, for sure."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.