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It’s tough being a top prospect. It’s even tougher being a former top prospect. The first label belongs to and the second is close to belonging to D.J. Peterson. The 2013 draft is still a recent memory, but the former first round draft pick is facing an uphill battle heading into the 2017 season.

The good news is that back in November, Peterson had his contract purchased as he was added to the 40-man roster. The impetus of the move was to protect the 24-year-old from the Rule 5 Draft where a team could acquire him for what amounts to major league pocket change. Chances are he wouldn’t be able to stick on a major league roster for the entire 2017 season, but the club felt that it wasn’t worth the risk.

With the challenges of 2015 behind him, Peterson put together a decent campaign split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016. His Double-A line of .271/.340/.466 was more reminiscent of his first stop at that level back in 2014. The 133 wRC+ and .198 ISO suggest that the power aspect of his game came back. The right-hander’s batting line took a step back in 192 plate appearances with Triple-A Tacoma however, with a .253/.307/.438 triple-slash supporting a 96 wRC+.

It had been projected that Peterson would reach the majors at some point in 2016 but obviously that didn’t come to fruition. His new status on the 40-man roster increases his chances of making an appearance with the Mariners at some point in the coming season. He projects to start 2017 at Triple-A as the primary first baseman for the Rainiers.

At the time the right-hander was added to the roster, Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill had this to say:

Peterson’s best value may ultimately be as a part-time player, perhaps at first base versus left-handed pitching where he got back to his old self, hitting more balls up the middle and the other way.

Almost all of Peterson’s extra-base power has come to his pull side. More balance there could change his profile enough to offer some hope he can play regularly. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but Peterson’s remaining potential and the fact he could be an option for the big club at some point in 2017 in some role is why he was protected.

Undoubtedly the club will need to see the continuation of last year’s improvements before he sniffs big league action — unless necessitated by an unfortunate injury scenario. But, as Churchill noted, the M’s have had him work in the outfield some and clearly still buy into the potential offered in his bat.

The move to first base wasn’t unexpected as many scouts saw the a departure from third as inevitable. It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners have the hot corner locked up long-term with Kyle Seager.

The incumbent first base platoon of Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee remain free agents after a season of mixed results. As it stands, a new tandem of Dan’s –Valencia, acquired this winter, and Vogelbach, acquired in the summer for Mike Montgomery — will have the reigns at first base.

Valencia, the right-handed side of the platoon, owns a lifetime 139 wRC+ against left-handed pitching and figures to see regular playing time. The 32-year-old has experience at all four corners and offers the club some desired flexibility — something Peterson currently does not.

Vogelbach, the left-handed side of the platoon, only made 13 plate appearances for the M’s at the end of last season, but has hit right-handed pitching well throughout his minor league career. He has a similar first base/designated hitter make-up to Peterson, though the more-tenured Mariner would be the more athletic of the pair. Also worth noting, the 23-year-old lefty is major league ready on top of being an acquisition of the new regime — both are important factors when looking at the organizational depth chart.

By no means has the club given up on their 2013 first round selection. That’s apparent in their continued work with the slugger. Peterson will turn 25 before the calendar flips to 2017, and that isn’t a point in his favor. But, if he’s able to contribute to the major league team at all next year, that probably can be considered a win. Even if his ceiling is now a part-time player there’s still value there.

Over at ESPN (insider required), Christopher Crawford offered some thoughts on Peterson and how he could be facing a make or break year. The general thought is that unless the former top pick can adjust to how pitchers are going after him, he may peak as a pinch-hitter.

As things stand, it does not look like Peterson will be the middle-of-the-order bat he profiled as a few years back. However, things can change in a hurry and there are plenty of cases where guys figure something out in their mid-to-late twenties.

All is not lost for the former top prospect, but time is running out for him to have an impact in the major leagues.

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Tyler Carmont

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