Cole Peterson was playing defense like this his entire career in college, but nobody caught it on-camera. After being drafted by Detroit in the 13th round from St. Bonaventure in 2017, the 22-year-old has become a human highlight reel at shortstop. His first-half success in the field and at the plate (.277 BA in 66 games) with Class-A West Michigan earned him a trip to the Midwest League All-Star Game, as well as a promotion to Advanced-A Lakeland of the Florida State League. Detroit Free Press writer and Baseball America correspondent Anthony Fenech listed the native of Johnsonburg, PA as the player from the Tigers organization who has taken the most significant leap forward this year. We enjoyed the chance to catch up with Peterson to pick his brain about a few of his incredible plays this summer.
Dan Hasty (DH): First of all, Cole, congratulations on going to the Midwest League All-Star Game. I know that had to be exciting for you.
Cole Peterson (CP): Thank you. I appreciate it.
DH: Let’s begin with what has garnered the attention of many people throughout the Midwest League; your defense, because you’ve made some spectacular plays this season.
We have to start with this catch.
DH: You make this incredible catch, and it ends up on the ‘ESPN SportsCenter Top 10’. What do you remember about that play?
CP: I was shifted towards the middle of the field because there was a lefty at the plate. [Matt] Manning was our pitcher and threw a ball inside, and the guy put an inside-out swing on it. I knew our left fielder Garrett [McCain] was playing deep. The ball is hit, and I know it’s not hit hard, so I took off running. It kept carrying, and I kept going. I didn’t hear McCain say, “I got it,” or anything. So, at the last second, as I was running in stride, I said, “I got it,” but I don’t think he heard me. At the last second, I just laid out and came up with the catch.
DH: If he also calls it and you don’t hear him, there’s a chance of a collision on that play. Did that cross your mind as you were laying out for that baseball?
CP: Not at the moment. I know Garrett pretty well to where if neither of us calls it, and he sees me, dive; he’s either going to slide or pull up because he’s a smart outfielder. It’s the same way with me; If I hear footsteps, I’m going to pull up or do something to make sure we don’t run into each other. It’s just such a fast play; there wasn’t much said because we were both coming for the ball. Thankfully, we know each other well. Not that I don’t think anything bad would’ve happened; but after the play was over, in the back of my head after we talked about it, I realized the possibility of running into each other and getting hurt. Luckily that didn’t happen, and everything worked out.
DH: The Whitecaps tweeted out that play, and it garnered over 100,000 views on social media. What does it feel like when one of your highlights goes viral?
CP: It’s awesome. In college, I took pride in making plays like that. We didn’t have broadcasts for any of our games. We weren’t online to watch, so to have it get caught on video for everyone to see was pretty cool.
DH: Do you have a personal favorite play of all time?
CP: I had some good ones in college, but I think that’s my best.
DH: Next up: let’s talk about this play you made in South Bend with a runner at third and only one out.
DH: At that point, all we were hoping for was for you to keep the ball in the infield, but all of a sudden, you let the throw fly and get the runner at first. How’d you feel about that one?
CP: Our manager Lance [Parrish] brought the infield in for that play, and the ball hit was a high chopper. I saw my third baseman Colby [Bortles] jump, so I know he took the angle to the inside. All I’m doing is going for the backup in case it gets by him. It bounced over his head, and I got it. I notice the runner at third didn’t take off for the plate because I could see him staying put. I saw him because my momentum was taking me that way and figured – it’s just such an instinct play that I just got the baseball and threw it to first. The runner didn’t go home, and we ended up getting the runner, so everything worked out well.
DH: Does it help that your third baseman Colby Bortles is next to you on the left side of the infield almost every day? It seems like he’s consistently breaking ‘in’ on those ground balls, rather than go back and wait for a hop. It’s almost as if he knows you’re going to be back there.
CP: Yeah; like with Garrett [McCain] in the outfield, Colby and I know each other very well, too. We played next to each other in many games last year in Connecticut and Spring Training, so he has a feel for where I’m at and when I’m there. I have the same for him. When there’s a groundball he can charge in on; I pull back because I know he’s going to get it. There are balls hit towards us I know he could get to, but he knows I’m there and pulls off, so I make the play. We’ve got an excellent feel for each other on the left side.
DH: Is this just commonplace to you by now? Every time you make a play like this, our first thought is always, “He’s making this look a lot easier than it probably is.”
CP: Yeah [laughter]. I’ve made a few of these types of plays in college, so it’s nothing new. None of these plays come routinely to me – it’s just instincts. Everything happens so fast, and the pitcher’s out there working hard. When they get a groundball where I can make a play, I do everything in my power to help them and the team. To me, I’m just doing my job.
DH: You’ve been able to accomplish a lot at shortstop. Is there anything you want to achieve as a hitter? Your first-half was good enough to have gotten you into the Midwest League All-Star Game. What’s next on the bucket list for 2018?
CP: To keep improving both offensively and defensively, because you can get better every day. During batting practice before a game, I always work on ground balls and getting my throws in. Offensively, I’m working on my swing and hopefully can keep it going to build on the first half.
DH: Keep up the excellent work, Cole. Great job in the first half and thank you very much for joining us.