Rancho Cucamonga, California —— On Tuesday afternoon at LoanMart Field, under a hot sun that chased most of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes under the shade of the dugout during afternoon batting practice, outfielder DJ Peters was out and about in center field, chasing down fly balls and high fiving the few and far between teammates who dared brave the late August heat with just a handful of games to go in a long season.
The Los Angeles Dodgers outfield prospect, it seemed, was in a pretty good mood.
And why not? When you win the California League’s MVP Award, as Peters did in an announcement that came down earlier on Tuesday, that’ll tend to put you in a pretty good state of mind.
“For it to be my first full season, and to be recognized in such a great league, it’s incredible,” the newly-crowned MVP told Baseball Census after coming in from his batting practice shag session. “This league has such honor, and such great hitters have come through it, like Derrek Lee, and Cody Bellinger, and Corey Seager, and Yasiel Puig. So to be recognized like that throughout the entire Cal League is a blessing. I give all the fame and all the glory to the man upstairs, though. I’ll always do that.”
Peters talks quickly, no doubt the product of a young mind and heart obviously excited to be out on the field, and with the greater pro ball world at his feet. He smiles a lot, too, but when you play as well as DJ Peters has this year, it’s easy to be happy; a .285/.382/.524/.906 slash line with 28 doubles, 24 home runs, and 75 RBI over 460 at-bats entering Wednesday will tend to put a power hitter in a good state of mind.
But he’s quick to thank his teammates for his success — and even quicker to point the conversation back to the Quakes’ playoff push that right now has them in the driver’s seat for the Cal League South Division’s second-half championship.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do this without this team, and the organization, and my family and friends supporting me through everything,” Peters said, still smiling. “I owe a lot to them. I’m going to cherish this, but I want to go out and win a championship, and that’s how everyone’s outlook is in this whole organization. We have to keep on pushing forward. Winning here is the goal, but if the Dodgers win the World Series, the whole organization wins.”
The playoff race is front and center for DJ Peters, just as it is for his teammates, and just as it is for the Quakes’ competitor in the South in Inland Empire, and for the deadlocked North Division trying to sort themselves out in the final two weeks. It’s funny, maybe, that with all the baseball everyone has been nearly endlessly playing all summer, here we are with less than two weeks to go—nothing decided, and everything up for grabs.
“We’ve had a great second half, and we are, what, five games ahead or whatever, but we have to keep pushing only worry about doing our part,” Peters said. “It’s funny because it always seems like everything comes down to the last week, or the last two weeks, even though you have 140 games. People forget about April and May. But here we are, and the last two weeks are the most important. We may be up by a few games now, but we could look back on the next off day [Monday, August 28], and we might be tied if we don’t take care of our business.”
The Quakes’ business, especially in the second half of the season, has revolved largely around the big Los Angeles Dodgers prospect who now finds himself the best player in the Cal League. In the second half alone, entering play today, Peters has turned it on, slashing .311/.385/.557/.942 over 219 second half at-bats (compared to .261/.381/.494/.874 in 241 at-bats in the first half).
He’s also improve power numbers (12 home runs and 16 doubles in the second half, versus 12 and 12 in the first), and cut down on strikeouts (just 77 in the second half compared to 98 in the first). More often than not, especially as the Quakes have dealt with slumps, injuries, and roster moves en masse, DJ Peters has proven himself the steady, powerful force in the middle of the lineup around which to build.
“This has definitely been a team year with all the transactions we’ve had, players going up and down and getting traded and released, but it’s been a lot of fun playing here close to home,” the Glendora, California native acknowledged. “And I have really just been playing for my team, and dedicating myself to my teammates, and my coaching staff. I’ve really been trying to have fun with it. Whether good or bad, I know that tomorrow is a new day, and whether I have a great game or a bad game, I know that my teammates are always going to pick up the slack if I’m not playing well. The guys I’ve met are friends I’ll have for the rest of my life.”
Maybe Peters’ high-energy routine during Tuesday’s otherwise lazy, hot batting practice suddenly makes sense, then; the outfielder is used to answering the bell night in and night out over the last two months, no matter the weather, the game number, or the inevitable physical challenges that come with playing a full season of professional baseball.
“My body feels great,” Peters said when asked, smiling. “For me personally it comes down to getting my treatment done, getting into the weight room and taking it seriously. I’ve always taken great pride in my work ethic and dedication, and that means taking care of my body. And me being a big guy, I have to eat right and really be smart about getting my work in. This team is relying on me, and this whole organization is relying on me, and as long as I do my part, I’ll be fine.”
Yep — you hear him say that, watch another smile cross his face, and then you know: with league recognition for his efforts, Tuesday was likely one of the best days of DJ Peters’ life. Ask him about it, though, and he’ll remind you: none of this will matter if his Quakes club doesn’t come away with a Cal League Championship ring in another month.