The Washington Nationals have taken a few dips into the LSU ranks in recent years in the MLB Draft. The latest is their seventh-round selection, right-hander Todd Peterson, a reliever know for a huge base hit in college - but we’ll get onto that later...
Possessing a tantalizing fastball-curveball combination, Peterson improved each season with the Tigers. His final season in Baton rouge was by far his best though, posting a 3.86 ERA, striking out 44 in 49 innings, walking just 18.
That constant improvement put him in the conversation to be a day-two pick in the 2019 Draft, which can be a strange time for potential college draftees, with many preparing for the NCAA playoffs.
That was the case for Peterson as LSU geared up for a super-regional matchup with Florida State.
“It was different,” the right-hander said of his draft day experience. “We had practice that day later in the afternoon just for the fact that we had a couple guys that were going to get drafted.
“And for me, just kind of sitting there being patient, letting the draft go on and just trusting the process, you know, just letting things work out.”
After seeing three of his LSU teammates get drafted, it was Peterson’s turn to get the call.
“I knew that all it needed to take was one team that was high on me and one team that really believed in me and bought in,” Peterson said of his thought process during the draft.
“I’m thankful that it was the Washington Nationals and I’m really blessed with the opportunity I’ve got.”
The right-hander is the Nats’ fourth draftee out of Louisiana State since the franchise moved to Washington. Louis Coleman (went unsigned), Andrew Stevenson, and Cole Freeman were the previous three, and the latter made sure to congratulate his fellow Tiger.
“[Cole] was actually one of the first people to text me as soon as my name was called,” Peterson said. “He was like ‘Hey man, congrats buddy, I’ll see you soon.’ So you know, I thought that was pretty cool, him reaching out.”
After the draft was over, it was time to lock back in as the Florida State matchup loomed large, with a place in the College World Series in Omaha at stake.
It was a matchup with a little more intrigue for Peterson as there was a familiar face on the other side of the ball in FSU third baseman, Drew Mendoza, the Nationals’ third-round pick.
“I’ve known Drew for a long time,” the right-hander said. “We played travel ball together in high school. Me and him have got pretty good chemistry, we’ve been around each other a long time and kind of know each other pretty well.”
Unfortunately for Peterson, it was Mendoza who came out on top. Florida State won the first two games to advance to Omaha, with the third baseman hitting the game-winner.
“After he hit the walk-off homer, I was kind of like ‘Dude [sighs], I wouldn’t want anyone else to do it but you, good for you, see you later in West Palm and we’ll get the ball rolling.’ It’s pretty cool to be teammates again.”
After some time in West Palm Beach, appearing in one game with the GCL Nationals, Peterson made his way up to short-season ball with the Auburn Doubledays on July 1st.
He’s now made two appearances for Auburn, relieving first-rounder Jackson Rutledge in both outings. In those two appearances, he’s pitched 5.2 innings, giving up four runs on eight hits and two walks, striking out three.
It’s the start of a steep adjustment period for Peterson who already realizes the challenge ahead.
“I think it’s kind of adjusting to the new schedule. It’s a grind,” Peterson said of the biggest change. “Throwing all the time is kind of something that I did in school, but going almost a month without a single off-day is different.”
“All these travel days and these eight-hour bus rides after a 7 o’clock game at night and getting to the hotels at 5 in the morning and having to wake up in 7 hours to go play another game. It’s a new experience.”
Doubledays manager Rocket Wheeler knows first-hand through his wealth of managerial experience in the minors how much of a culture shock the all-out schedule can be.
“This is a stepping stone to every player coming in,” Wheeler said. “They’re getting used to the travel, you know, traveling at night...then you get up and play a game the next day. So these are the kind of things that all these kids have to get used to and go out and perform.”
“It’s a learning experience for them and that’s why we’re here, to start them off and get them on the right track to get to the big leagues.”
Even though Peterson was almost exclusively a reliever at LSU, he often went multiple innings out of the bullpen. And so far in his three minor league appearances, he’s gone at least two innings in each, with a three-inning outing on Monday against Lowell.
It’s unclear whether the Nationals plan to stretch Peterson out as a starter, though he could clearly handle it if asked given his multi-inning experience. However, especially in his first season in pro ball, that’s the last thing on the right-hander’s mind.
“Right now, as far as that goes, I’m not really sure,” Peterson said of the organization’s long-term plans. “I’m just getting the ball and pitching when they tell me to and trying to get guys out. As far as all that goes, I’ll just let that play out and control what I can control.”
One of Peterson’s finer longer appearances for the Tigers has been entrenched in LSU folklore for something completely different...
In extra innings of a third-round game in the 2018 SEC tournament against South Carolina, Peterson was dealing on the mound, keeping his team in the game. Then LSU took the lead in the 12th, but had burned their DH spot, meaning their reliever had to hit.
With the lead, LSU manager Paul Mainieri initially wanted Peterson to not lift the bat off his shoulders. But after convincing Mainieri to let him swing, he cracked one to the left field wall for a two-run double.
They even ended up needing those two runs, as USC tallied an extra run in the bottom half of the inning. But any description doesn’t do it justice, just watch the video and the priceless post-game interview and press conference...
“I think that was definitely one of the highest moments,” Peterson said with a beaming smile, recalling the base hit. “After all that went down, a lot of things happened from there.”
The right-hander did admit that he was looking forward to potentially getting the chance to swing the bat in the upper-minors if he gets there, given the lack of DH in the National League. But what is he most looking forward to in pro ball?
“New experiences,” Peterson said he was most excited about. “Traveling to different places, seeing different sights and different stadiums and checking out new atmospheres.”
“I grew up in the south and was there my whole entire life, then coming up here to the north and just new environments, new atmospheres, and new crowds and just seeing how that goes.”
Peterson is going to be one of the more interesting prospects for the Nationals from this year’s draft, who has the potential to impact either the bullpen or rotation. Any more RBI base hits along the way are just a bonus...