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Jace Peterson could fill Ryan Flaherty-sized hole on Orioles bench

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With infield stalwart Ryan Flaherty gone, the Orioles started the 2018 season lacking a true utility man. That is, until the recent acquisition of Jace Peterson.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

When the Orioles acquired Jace Peterson from the Yankees, he was intended to be an immediate injury fill in for a short-handed infield. But long term, he has the chance to stick around as an all purpose utility man.

When the season began, the Orioles were content to go with an unconventional bench that did not include a true utility man. I mean, hey, this is a team that selected both Danny Valencia AND Pedro Alvarez to be on the 25 man opening day roster. Both are known for their bats, not their gloves.

In this scenario, it was assumed that Tim Beckham would be able to float around the infield on occasion when he wasn’t at third, filling in for Jonathan Schoop at second and for Manny Machado at short when needed. But injuries to both Beckham and Schoop scuttled that plan.

For the better part of the past six years, Ryan Flaherty had served as the Orioles utility man. He saw time at all four infield positions, and even a bit of time in the outfield corners here and there. Known more for his solid glove than his bat, Flaherty only mustered a .215/.284/.355 batting line during his career with the Orioles. But his contributions went far beyond those underwhelming triple slash numbers.

A true utility man is one who can become a chameleon in the field at whatever position he’s needed. Hitting is usually just a plus. But an asset who can play all over the field is often undervalued, like Flaherty was in his time in Baltimore. But it is a vital role nonetheless.

The Orioles were linked to Flaherty multiple times this spring, but they were unable to reconnect with the veteran infielder. In early February he signed with the Phillies, only to end up with the Braves later on in the spring. It was rumored that the Orioles offered him a minor league deal once the Phillies cut him, but he opted for the major league deal with the Braves instead. And he hasn’t looked back.

Ryan Flaherty is one of the biggest surprises of the baseball season so far. He’s off to a scorching start at the plate, hitting .310/.406/.437 with five doubles, two home runs, nine RBI, 13 walks and three steals. As of Wednesday, Flaherty had the eighth best batting average in the entire National League. You better believe the Orioles would have held onto him if he had hit anywhere near that level in Baltimore.

But Flaherty has not been occupying his usual role of utility infielder with the Braves. He’s been at third base almost exclusively, in 23 of 24 games played this season. But with the Braves recent signing of Jose Bautista, it looks like Flaherty’s days at third may be numbered. With the way he’s hitting though, it would be very unwise to take him out of the lineup.

Which takes us back to Jace Peterson, who is off to an inconspicuous start at the plate with the Orioles, slashing .136/.269/.227 in 22 at bats. He has started six of the first seven games since he joined the Orioles, with most of those starts coming in the number two spot in the batting order. On the positive side, Peterson has shown an ability to work the count and take a walk. And he’s got three steals already.

Peterson was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the supplemental first round (58th) of the 2011 MLB Draft out of McNeese State University. His minor league stats, across 7 seasons, include a .279/.374/.398 batting line with a .772 OPS. He had a rough start in the majors with the Padres in 2014, hitting .113/.161/.113 with two walks and 18 strikeouts in 53 at bats.

In 2015, Peterson joined the Atlanta Braves, where he would spend the next three seasons. During that time, he hit .240/.326/.342 with 15 home runs and 98 RBI. Peterson displayed his most versatile defensive capabilities in 2017 with the Braves, appearing in seven games at first base, 15 at second, 15 at third, four at shortstop, 25 in left field and two in right field.

For his career, Peterson has a .978 fielding percentage across seven different positions, with the bulk of that playing time coming at second base. The only positions that Peterson has not played in his career are catcher and pitcher. He has a .980 fielding percentage in 266 games at second, .963 in 47 games in the outfield, .925 in 26 games at third, 1.000 in seven games at first, and .929 in four games at shortstop.

In the 2018 season, Peterson has been involved in his fair share of player transactions. He started out in the minors with the New York Yankees, getting called up to their big league club on April 4th. Three days later, on the 10th, he was designated for assignment. The Yankees then resigned him on April 16th, only to designate him for assignment again on the 22nd.

And now Peterson is with the Orioles, who are hoping that he can provide the type of gritty, versatile presence that often goes under appreciated.