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High-energy Peralta giving D-backs dose of zest

Pitcher-turned-outfielder living dream after climbing ladder from independent leagues

High-energy Peralta giving D-backs dose of zest play video for High-energy Peralta giving D-backs dose of zest

PHOENIX -- David Peralta inches down the third-base line. He leans forward as Rockies reliever Rex Brothers delivers a pitch to Jordan Pacheco.

Catcher Michael McKenry flips the ball back to Brothers. He's thinking about the next pitch to Pacheco. It's as routine as routine can get.

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But something -- namely, someone -- breaks that routine.

Peralta bolts for home as Brothers walks forward to catch the ball. In his surprise, the Rockies pitcher drops the ball as Peralta slides safely across the plate.

Peralta, the owner of the D-backs' first steal of home in nearly seven years, runs back to the dugout, where he is greeted by an ocean of high fives. In an otherwise disappointing season for Arizona fans, Peralta has been an exciting breath of fresh air -- and yet no one knew who he was just three months ago.

"I was playing the game like it was my last one of my life," Peralta said. "It doesn't matter if we're in first place or we're in last place.

"I know we're not doing well right now, but I'm going to keep playing my game like it was the last game of the World Series."

Peralta is an easy player to like. He doesn't hit for much power, but he will barrel around second base to turn a double in the gap into a triple. Peralta doesn't have the natural speed or arm that fellow rookie outfielder Ender Inciarte has, but he'll slam into a low wall to make a catch in foul ground.

"He's all 'Go.' I like that," manager Kirk Gibson said. "He's got a lot of energy. He's really excited to be where he's at right now. … He's worked hard to get here. He wants to stay here."

Peralta's excitement to be with the D-backs is palpable, and it's tough to blame him. Originally signed as a pitcher by the Cardinals, Peralta pitched the 2006-07 seasons with the Johnson City Cardinals of the Appalachian League -- a Rookie League team at the lowest level of Major League-affiliated professional baseball.

Pitching damaged Peralta's shoulder, and after several surgeries, pitching at the Major League level seemed out of the question.

So Peralta made a move few are capable of -- he started playing the outfield.

Not many Major League teams are interested in a pitcher-turned-outfielder who has never hit at a professional level. So Peralta's next move was to the independent leagues.

Peralta signed as an outfielder with the Rio Grande Valley Whitewings of the North American League in 2011. Never heard of them? That may be because the North American League -- made up mostly of teams in Texas, California and Hawaii -- folded in 2012 after two seasons.

Peralta crushed the competition, though, hitting .392 with 17 homers in 85 games in 2011. His success there launched him to the American Association, another more stable independent league. He played parts of two seasons in the American Association before Arizona noticed him.

"You're going to find a lot of experienced guys over there," Peralta said. "There's a bunch of people who play a lot of baseball, and they're playing independent baseball because they love to play baseball. They want to keep doing it."

The transition to Major League-affiliated leagues did nothing to slow Peralta down. The D-backs assigned him to Class A Advanced Visalia, for whom he hit .346 in 2013. They promoted him to Double-A Mobile this season, and he posted an .839 OPS before Arizona summoned him to the Majors.

"I never gave up," Peralta said. "When you sign as a professional for the first time, your dream is to make it to the big leagues. So I always keep that in my mind, like, 'Hey, I'm going to make it. I'm going to do it, no matter what.'

"So it's not how you start, it's how you end it. So right now I'm here in the big leagues as a hitter. Who could know that?"

Is it obvious that Peralta has only been a professional hitter for four seasons? Perhaps. He's aggressive at the plate, batting .586 on the first pitch. Peralta doesn't walk often -- his on-base percentage (.347) is only 34 points higher than his batting average (.313).

Peralta just hits. And recently, he seems to have a flair for the dramatic. A day after stealing home, Peralta capped a nine-run inning with a grand slam -- the first of his career.

When asked if anything Peralta does surprises his teammates, Cliff Pennington said, "No, he's amazing."

Peralta's sweet stroke and heads-up play have put him in the running for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, even as fans of other teams might still be wondering who he is.

Peralta doesn't worry much about potential accolades. He's just enjoying the ride.

"It was a dream for me," Peralta said. "It's still a dream for me. I'm living my dream -- a dream that I don't want to wake up from."

Adam Lichtenstein is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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