20 June 2011
The Diamondbacks called up 29 year old LF Wily Mo Pena from AAA Reno on Sunday night, and outrighted 3B Sean Burroughs back to AAA. Even in the inflated offensive conditions of the Pacific Coast League, Pena has put up some pretty incredible batting numbers this year - .363/.439/.726, with 21 HR and 63 RBI in 63 Games. Pena is first in the league in HR and RBI, and third in OPS and SLG. What can we expect from Pena as a Diamondback in 2011?
Let's start with a look at Pena's career record in the Major Leagues.
Pena signed a Major League contract with the Yankees back in 1999 when he was just 17 years old. Such a contract meant that he would be out of options within four years, and thus would be in the Majors by age 21. Thus, after spending 2001 in the Low A Midwest League and 2002 in the AA Southern League, Pena found himself in the Majors in 2003 with the Cincinnati Reds, after being traded from the Yankees for 3B/QB Drew Henson and OF Michael Coleman.
Although Pena has always shown good power and had a couple of solid seasons in the Majors, the poor strikeout-to-walk ratio (520K/106 BB), low batting averages and on-base percentages, and poor defense kept him from holding an everyday job in the Majors. Many scouts felt that if Pena had stayed in the Minors a little longer, mastering AA and AAA before advancing to the Majors, he may have developed that plate discipline that was lacking.
2008 was a lost year for Pena, as he had an oblique injury in March, and then had to have surgery for a torn rotator cuff and torn labrum in July. Those injuries sapped his power that season, and Pena found himself at the AAA level for the 2009-2010 seasons, playing for the Mets and Padres, as well as briefly with the Bridgeport Bluefish in the independent Atlantic League. He was limited him to only 41 Games in 2009 and just 79 in 2010. In 2011, the Diamondbacks signed Pena to a minor league contract, and invited him to Spring Training. In the spring, Pena hit .341 with 3 HR and a .585 slugging percentage, but didn't make the Opening Day roster. But at AAA, Pena continued to hit, and also improved his K/BB ratio to around 2:1, by far the best of his career.
Pena joins the Diamondbacks just as the team heads out for interleague play against the Royals and Tigers, where the team can use a Designated Hitter. Before calling up Pena, the team's choices for the DH position were Xavier Nady (.375 SLG, .677 OPS), Melvin Mora (.280 SLG, .528 OPS), Willie Bloomquist (.345 SLG, .635 OPS), and Sean Burroughs (.292 SLG, .542 OPS). That group had a total of 4 HR in around 400 AB, so Pena is a much more attractive option for the Diamondbacks.
So what can the Diamondbacks expect from Pena? Even in his earlier Major League appearances, he had always been a good hitter against LHP, with a .796 career OPS against them. So he should at least be an asset against LHP (The Diamondbacks should face LHPs Jeff Francis and Phil Coke on Wednesday and Friday). Hopefully his improved plate discipline will lead to even better numbers in all situations in the Majors. The cautionary note is that great batting stats from the PCL often do not translate to decent numbers in the Majors. The two PCL players ahead of Pena in OPS, Chris Davis and Taylor Teagarden of the Rangers, both have been bouncing between AAA and the Majors for the last couple of years. A similar fate has hit many of the other leading hitters in the PCL right now - Mike Wilson, Jai Miller, Josh Fields, Mike Carp, Jerry Sands, Ian Stewart, etc. But at the very least, Pena should be able to outhit the current members of the Diamondbacks' bench. And if he hits even close to how he was doing at Reno, he could easily work himself into a platoon with Gerardo Parra in LF after interleague play ends.