Outfielder David Peralta of the Diamondbacks was once a member of the Cardinals’ organization, as a pitcher. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)
By Rob Rains
They were teammates on the Johnson City, Tenn., Cardinals in 2007, a pair of 19-year-olds in rookie ball, both dreaming of one day making it to the major leagues. One was an outfielder from Texas, a promising power hitter. The other was a left-handed pitcher from Venezuela.
As often happens, especially to players in the lowest levels of the minor leagues, injuries and a lack of production got in the way of their dreams. The Cardinals gave both players a chance, but ultimately did not see enough progress and released them.
The pitcher could never stay healthy, having undergone two surgeries on his shoulder. The hitter struck out too much and did not make enough contact to get on base consistently. Neither was able to advance beyond Class A in the St. Louis farm system.
Today, six years after the pitcher was released and nearly five years after the hitter was released, both are major leaguers, only there has been one significant change between then and now for both: The pitcher is now an outfielder, and the outfielder is now a pitcher.
David Peralta, who was known by his first name of Senger when he was in the Cardinals’ organization, is now an outfielder with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jon Edwards, the former outfielder, is now a relief pitcher with the Texas Rangers.
“I wouldn’t put anything past the Lord,” Edwards said. “He can make it happen and lead you in that direction. That’s really how I ended up where I am. But if definitely wouldn’t have been the direction I thought I was going to go, that’s for sure.”
There were a lot of twists and turns in the stories of how both Edwards and Peralta have been able to move forward in their lives, and achieve success in their baseball careers, after being released by the Cardinals.
The hitter turned pitcher
Edwards was the Cardinals’ 14th-round draft pick out of Keller High School in Texas in 2006. The area scout who signed him was Joe Almaraz, who also served as the manager of the short-season Johnson City team in 2007.
“We always knew he had a great arm,” recalled Almaraz, now one of the Cardinals’ national cross-checkers. “He had the best throwing arm in the organization at the time.”
The Cardinals also saw the power potential in the bat of the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Edwards. He led Johnson City with seven homers, 12 doubles and 33 RBI in 55 games in 2007, but he hit just .245 and struck out 68 times in 188 at-bats.
That was a sign of a problem that would plague Edwards for the next three seasons, which he split between Batavia in the New York-Penn League and Quad Cities in the Class A Midwest League. In a combined 639 at-bats he hit 25 homers but also struck out 247 times.
On Oct. 5, 2010, the Cardinals gave Edwards his release. Nobody in the organization suggested the possibility of moving him to the mound.
“Honestly I’m a Christian guy and I believe that it was God kind of protecting me at that time,” Edwards says now. “I don’t know if my pitching career would have been much different than my hitting career at that time in my life.
“I was spending a lot of time doing things that were distractions away from the field and I think it really hindered my performance. One of the things I really struggled with as a young player is when I didn’t do well I didn’t really know how to handle the failure and move forward. There were times in my career as a hitter that I did hit well and showed I could be consistent, but I never really had a long enough stint doing that. That was where my hitting career kind of ended.”
With his baseball career at a critical point, it was time for Edwards to begin changing his life.
“For the first time in my life I wasn’t a baseball player anymore,” he said. “People had always referred to me as ‘Big Jon’ and as a baseball player. Now people talked to me a little different. I was kind of trying to figure out if baseball was where I was supposed to be. I started crying out to the Lord and asking Him to help me – to show me what I was supposed to be doing. I was searching for peace.”
Edwards sought out his father, Kevin, for counsel and advice.
“I grew up in a Christian home and was a Christian from the time I was little,” Edwards said. “I really leaned on my dad to help me and he gave me good wisdom, advice and direction. He was always a big fan of mine and was encouraging me and telling me I could do it.”
Edwards’ search for peace led him to San Angelo, Texas, and a spot on the San Angelo Colts of the independent North American League in 2011. It was during that season that he decided to give pitching a try.
“I was about 11 or 12 the last time I pitched a lot,” Edwards said. “I pitched a handful of times in high school but I never had much success with it. I got on the mound and a couple of bullpens and was hitting 95. Doc Edwards was the manager and he told me he thought I had a good shot at it if it was something I wanted to do. I prayed about it, and had peace in my heart. I didn’t look back.”
After a pair of games pitching for Alpine in the Pecos League, Edwards pitched in front of a scout for the Rangers after the 2011 season. The team signed him the next day.
That began his journey through the Texas organization, hitting Double A by the end of the 2012 season. Less than two years later, he found himself on the receiving end of a life-changing phone call with the news he was being promoted to the major leagues.
“It was really emotional for me,” Edwards said. “I was with my wife and I started crying. I really felt peaceful warming up that night because I think the Lord had prepared me for it.
“In the offseason when I was throwing my sides I always pretended I was facing Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. They were the best three I could think of in a row and guys I thought I could potentially face. Driving to the ballpark I told my wife, ‘I can see myself pitching to Albert.’
It was Aug. 15, 2014, and the Rangers were playing the Angels in Arlington. Edwards came in from the bullpen to begin the eighth inning. Pujols was waiting at the plate. On a 3-2 pitch, Pujols fouled out to the catcher.
Edwards went on to pitch in eight more games for the Rangers last season. He opened the year with the team this year, then went back to Triple A and had 13 saves, the second most in the Pacific Coast League, when he was called up again by the Rangers on Wednesday.
While his appearance in Cleveland wasn’t quite as emotional, Edwards still had a reason to rejoice. Last December, after a trip to the doctor, Edwards learned he had testicular cancer.
“The doctor had a lot of concern that maybe it was in my lymph nodes based on the type and size and how long he thought it had been going on,” Edwards said.
Edwards had surgery within a few days and the mass was removed. More tests revealed that the cancer had not spread. He did not even have to undergo radiation or chemotherapy. By the middle of February, Edwards was in Arizona for the start of spring training.
A month later, Edwards and his wife, Katelyn, found out she was pregnant. She is expecting the couple’s first child in October.
“To be honest I believe anything is possible with God on my side,” Edwards said. “That was what really motivated me and kept me going. What I really learned was that when I did have failure, how to use God as my strength. I had to learn how to eliminate all the distracting and negative thoughts and focus on what I wanted to do.
“I had some really good advice this year from one of my teammates. It’s a Biblical comment, ‘be where my feet are.’ It means to enjoy where you are and have fun with it. What has really been important for me is to not put expectations on myself that are results-based. I just trust each time that I go out there I am going to pitch the best I can with what I have that day and that’s all I can ask of myself. It alleviates a lot of the pressure.”
The pitcher turner hitter
When Edwards joined the Cardinals after the 2006 draft, Peralta had already spent close to two years in the organization. He signed on Sept. 26, 2004, six weeks after his 17th birthday, as an international free agent.
“I was going to sign as an outfielder, but I was young, left-handed and had a good arm,” Peralta said. “Scouts told me it would be easier for me to make it to the majors as a pitcher and I was like, ‘OK, I’ll do it. I just want to play baseball.’”
By 2007, Peralta was in his second season at Johnson City, but already was fighting injury problems. He pitched in just 15 games that year, making eight starts, and went 1-5. He struck out 56 batters in 52 2/3 innings but also walked 29 and had a 5.81 ERA.
“He had a good arm but his ball was straight,” Almaraz said. “I always said, ‘I bet this guy could throw good from the outfield.’ It just seemed when he pitched he would be going good and then step into a big mud puddle. We just couldn’t keep him healthy. I think they just got tired of him being in the training room. I felt bad for the kid.”
After missing all of the 2008 season following surgery, Peralta was given his release on May 9, 2009. At the age of 21, Peralta had to examine his life, just as Edwards would have to do the following year. He returned home to Venezuela, surrounded by his family.
“I decided to give up pitching because my shoulder was bothering me too much,” Peralta said. “Talking with my family, they supported me and said I was still young, why not try it as a hitter?’”
Almaraz jokes that Peralta had always asked the Cardinals to let him hit, but was told the organizational policy was to not have their pitchers bat until they reached Double A. Peralta’s transition actually began where his pitching career ended, at the Cardinals’ complex in Jupiter, Fla., after he moved to the area in 2010.
“I was going to the complex three times a week hitting in the cages,” Peralta said. One of the people he ran into one day had a little history of doing what Peralta was contemplating – Rick Ankiel, who also lived in the area.
“I saw him in the cages a couple of times,” Peralta said. “I asked him what he thought. He saw me swing, and he told me to try it. He said, ‘You’ve got time. Keep doing what you’re doing.’ He helped me, giving me advice to try it if I wanted to do it.”
While there are many success stories of players with good arms turning to pitching because they could not hit well enough to advance in their careers, the stories of pitchers who convert to being position players are much more uncommon. Peralta didn’t really realize the odds he was fighting, as Ankiel once did.
As with Edwards, the next step on Peralta’s journey was independent baseball. He signed with the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings from Harlingen, Texas, also a member of the North American League, in 2011.
Now going by his middle name of David, Peralta led the team with 17 homers and 81 RBI in 85 games along with a .392 average. Peralta moved to the Wichita Wingnuts in the independent American Association in 2012, posting a .332 average.
He moved on to his third team, and season, of independent ball in 2013 with the Amarillo Sox of the American Association, and after 42 games, signed as a free agent with the Diamondbacks on July 5. He was 25 years old by then.
Less than a year later, on June 1, 2014, Peralta found himself making his major-league debut, starting in left field and hitting seventh in a game against the Cincinnati Reds. He went 2-of-4.
“It was a special day because of everything I went through,” Peralta said. “There were no words really to explain it. A lot of people helped me make it, especially my family.”
In the nearly one calendar year Peralta has spent in the majors, he has hit 12 homers, driven in 58 runs and posted a .276 average in 131 games.
“It’s a process,” Peralta said. “I am just trying to learn every day. I am still learning. It’s coming. I have to be patient and have to be smart. I am hanging out around great players and trying to learn. That is going to make me better.
“For me it’s never good enough. I want to be better, better, better.”
An upcoming reunion?
Even though Edwards and Peralta took different paths when each was released by the Cardinals, they have met again – and could find themselves once again on the same field in July, on different teams, when the Rangers host the Diamondbacks for two games in inter-league play.
“I saw him in 2011, when we were both in independent ball,” Edwards said of Peralta. “He was tearing it up. Actually I thought he was a pretty good pitcher.”
But as was the case with Edwards’ own career, what each thought might happen eight years ago was different than how their lives have turned out.
“Those guys persevered,” Almaraz said. “They changed positions, and did what a lot of people tell guys to do and they won’t do it- go hook up with an independent ballclub and put up some numbers and people will notice you.”
Both Edwards and Peralta are now believers.
“The Cardinals kept waiting for me,” Peralta said. “My dream was to make it to the big leagues as a pitcher. That didn’t work out for me.
“You always know how you are going to start (your career) but you don’t know how it’s going to end. The only thing in my mind was to never give up. If you had told me back then I was going to make it to the big leagues as an outfielder, I never would have believed that.”
Edwards knows exactly what Peralta means.
“All the time I was with the Cardinals my dad told me that what I thought was a step back was actually a divine setup,” Edwards said. “That kind of stuck with me, especially with everything that took place later on.
“The Lord has been able to take care of me. I haven’t looked back.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains