It amounted to a mild surprise last month when the Mariners opted to shield first baseman D.J. Peterson from the Rule 5 Draft by placing him on their 40-man roster.
For while Peterson, 24, was a first-round pick in 2013, his four-year pro career hasn’t matched expectations. Flashes of intriguing potential have too often been overshadowed by injuries and underachievement.
That made him a long-shot gamble as a Rule 5 pick, where players must spend the entire next season on a club’s 25-man roster or be offered back to his former club at a reduced price.
Even so, the Mariners chose to bet on Peterson’s potential and not take the risk.
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"At the end of day," general manager Jerry Dipoto said, "we had the (roster) space. And we don’t think he’s played his best baseball. We wanted to give him a chance to stay in the organization and see what he can do."
Peterson batted a combined .264 with 19 homers and 78 RBIs last season while splitting 119 games at Double-A Jackson (73) and Triple-A Tacoma (46).
Those pedestrian numbers didn’t approach his breakout 2014 season, when he was the Mariners’ minor-league player of the year while playing primarily at Hi-A High Desert, but they marked a major bounce back from a dreadful 2015 season.
That rebound was good enough, the Mariners judged, to keep Peterson around for another year. In effect, the Mariners determined he was a better risk than anyone likely to be available when they pick 18th on Thursday in the Rule 5 Draft.
The Mariners have no openings on their 40-man roster, which means they can’t make a selection unless they make a space-clearing move prior to the draft, which begins at 9 a.m. Eastern time and serves as the final event of the Winter Meetings.
Peterson’s place on the 40-man roster guarantees a spot in big-league camp at spring training, but he appears ticketed next season for a return to Tacoma for duty primarily (but not exclusively) as a first baseman.
"When you’re in development," Dipoto said, "you have no real reason not to expose players, who are positioning themselves as role players in the big leagues, to different positions.
"You find out what they’re capable of…If D.J. Peterson had the ability to go play the four corners like Danny Valencia, he’s an infinitely more valuable piece in the industry."
The rest of the Tacoma roster also appears to be falling into place.
Shawn O’Malley, Mike Freeman and Taylor Motter are expected to wage a three-way competition in spring training for duty as the Mariners’ utilityman. The two who don’t make it should split second base and shortstop at Tacoma.
Richie Shaffer has four-corner skills similar to Valencia and loomed as the likely choice to play third base for the Rainiers before he was designated for assignment late Wednesday to clear roster space after a trade to obtain right-handed pitcher Chris Heston.
If Shaffer clears waivers, he could still wind upin Tacoma.
Outfielder Tyler O’Neill will be in big-league camp as a non-roster invite, but he figures to open the season at Tacoma after a breakout season at Double-A Jackson.
The other outfield spots will likely to go to Guillermo Heredia, unless he makes the big-league roster, and Boog Powell, who return April 8 from an 80-game suspension for using a performance-enhancing substance.
If Heredia makes the big-league club, it will likely be at the expense of Mitch Haniger or Ben Gamel, who would then slot down to the Rainiers.
The Mariners are hoping catcher Jesus Sucre clears waivers and can return to Tacoma, where he’ll serve as insurance for Mike Zunino and Carlos Ruiz. Steven Baron also returned to the organization as a minor-league free agent.
Right-hander Cody Martin should reprise his role as a starter in Tacoma and a swingman option on recall to the big leagues. The Rainiers’ rotation should also include newcomers Rob Whalen and Christian Bergman.
The Mariners also plan to promote lefty Ryan Yarbrough, who was 12-4 with a 2.95 ERA at Jackson.
"Yarbrough was the Southern League pitcher of the year," Dipoto said. "I don’t know what more you can do. To go back would be a tough thing to ask of a player."
Other possibilities include Andrew Moore, who excelled last year at Hi-A Bakersfield and Jackson, and newcomers Max Povse and Ryan Weber.
The bullpen will consist of the big-league overflow, which could include Dan Altavilla, who would likely serve as the Rainiers’ closer if not in the big leagues.
"I’m really excited about Dan Altavilla and what he can be for us," Dipoto said. "Huge arm. He could not have been better than he was in September. Frankly, he had a really good minor-league season, too.
"When you start building depth with guys like (Casey) Fien, (Arquimedes) Caminero and Tony Zych…a year ago, Tony Zych was probably sitting shotgun in the bullpen. Now, he might be trying to hail a cab."
Caminero is out of options, which is one factor that could push Altavilla to Tacoma. Fien and Zych face stiff competition to win big-league jobs. The same goes for lefties James Pazos, Zac Curtis and Paul Fry.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners