Last season, right-hander Mark Peterson led the Carolina League with 22 saves (in 24 opportunities), despite a promotion to Double-A at the end of July. The year prior (2013), he was 18-for-20 in save opportunities with Low-A Lexington (fourth in the South Atlantic League).
So this year it has been a surprise to see Peterson pitching at all different times in a game. He even started on June 12th. He has thrown 2+ innings in an outing 13 times (out of 30 appearances). “The adjustment was difficult at the beginning of the year,” Peterson said, “but I have to keep the mindset that every time I go out, my goal is to put up a zero no matter what inning it is.”
While June was a struggle for Peterson, he has come on strong in the second half (1.90 ERA in 13 games). He converted his first save on August 13th and has had scoreless outings in five of his last six appearances.
“This season has been different to say the least. It’s been an up and down year, making a lot of adjustments physically and mentally, but I feel that where I’m headed now in the second half is a step in the right direction.”
Peterson has found his groove with the playoffs less than a month away (NW Arkansas won the Texas League North Division’s first half).
“To win the first half was amazing! I’ve celebrated like that one time previously when I was at Pitt CC about to head to the JUCO World Series in 2010. It was something very special and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we celebrate like that one more time after we win the Texas League Championship.”
Overall, he is 4-1 with a 3.08 ERA in 31 games. Over 64.1 innings, he has allowed 63 hits (a .259 average) and seven home runs, walked 26, and struck out 40.
Mark was kind enough to take time to answer some questions.
- What are the biggest differences between High-A and Double-A (besides the ballpark)?
“I would say the biggest difference would be the consistency of play. The hitters are more consistent with their approaches and have more scouting reports on each pitcher they face. Definitely have to stick to your game and keep your mistakes to a minimum.”
- What are some of the physical and mental adjustments you had to make?
“The changes I’ve made this season lean more to the mental side than anything. There have been a few physical changes like hand placement and arm angles, things of that nature. However the mental aspect has changed in the way of reading scouting reports and in-game situations. I’ve gotten a lot better at reading swing patterns and knowing how to attack a hitter who is trying to go to the opposite field or pull.”
- What has it been like playing for [Naturals manager] Vance Wilson?
“Vance is an excellent manager. I think what sets him apart is his desire to win, and win the right way. He preaches playing clean baseball, free of mental mistakes and focusing in on what each individual has to do in order to win. Also, he has a fire in him during games which appeals to me because I play with a certain fire as well.”
- How have you changed as a pitcher from not just last year to this year, but from college to pro ball?
“I think I’ve become more knowledgeable about pitching, especially in certain situations. [Naturals pitching coach] Jim Brower has done an awesome job working with me on recognizing swings, hitter approaches, and how to battle against the hitter in the box. That has come a long way since college when I was more or less just throwing the ball as hard as I could without much knowledge to go off of.”
- I had asked you over the offseason about the new 20-second pitch clock. Has it played any part in your outings or is it something you don’t really notice?
“The pitch clock doesn’t affect me at all. I have seen a handful of instances where it has cost the pitcher, or batter, a pitch, but to be honest, I don’t worry about it at all.”
- What’s the best thing about NWA?
“NWA is definitely different from Wilmington to say the least. Culturally, geographically, and the heat. I have enjoyed my time here in NWA, the facilities are awesome and the town is quiet with some good golf around as well for our off days.”
- What are the challenges of balancing minor league baseball and married life [Mark and his wife Morgan were married last offseason]? And then being a parent to a furry child [cat Cam]?
“Oh I miss my cat so much. I get pictures of him everyday from my wife. But there are a ton of challenges with baseball and married life. Especially when many teams in the Carolina League last season were so close to my home in the first place [they live in North Carolina]. Now that I’m in Arkansas, it’s a lot different. My wife and I talk all the time, every day, and see each other when we can. She has been out to Arkansas just a few times (airfare is not cheap out here), which sucks because we both wish we could spend more time together. Also the salary isn’t ideal when we have rent, car payments, clubhouse dues, groceries for ourselves…that definitely makes it harder when we plan trips for my wife to come visit.”
- What did you major in at Radford and did you earn your degree?
“I majored in advertising at Radford and I did earn my degree before signing with the Royals in 2012.”
- What would you be doing if you weren’t playing baseball?
“I would like to think I would have a career in advertising, but seeing as though baseball has been such a big part of my life, I would say that I would be coaching somewhere right now in the college ranks. But I would definitely be spending more time with my wife and family.”
- Did you always want to be a baseball player?
“From the moment I first picked up a ball I knew I wanted to play. I would have my dad throw to me in a batting cage until the sun went down, make up a situation where I hit a walk off home run in the World Series or strike out the final batter to win it all. Playing baseball has been the biggest dream I could ever have. I have pushed and pushed to get to where I am today and I want to do everything possible to make it to the Majors because I think that’s every little boy’s dream who fell in love with this game like I did.”
- Do you have a pregame routine? Any superstitions?
“Don’t really have a pregame routine. I never step on the line when I go out to the mound or come into the dugout. The only thing I do before I throw a pitch is I look down at the front of my right cleat and lock into my target. Not sure if that’s a superstition or just what I do.”
- What’s your favorite road city/ballpark?
“That’s a tough one. I would have to say my favorite ballpark that I’ve played in would be Winston-Salem. I love the park and it’s close to home. Tulsa would have to be the best city. There are a ton of restaurants and we can walk to the field from the hotel.”
Thanks to Mark for his time and best of luck with winning the Texas League Championship! He is one guy that is easy to root for in his quest to make it to the big leagues.
*Click HERE if you want to check out my interview with Mark from last season.