Physical Stats: 6'2" 230 lbs.
Drafted: NDFA, Santo Domingo, DR
Current Team: St. Lucie Mets (Hi-A)
Scouting Report: Despite his size, the son of former Major Leaguer Tony Pena has surprising athleticism. He is agile behind the plate with a cannon arm, and has lots of raw strength just dying to be translated into on-the-field power. The offensive numbers may not bear it out, but Pena has taken some interesting developmental strides this year, most notably in his actions behind the plate. He seems to be moving much better and getting plus grades across the board for his defense, whereas in the past the potential was frequently noted, but was much more raw ability than finished product. Where he previously received criticism for things like conditioning and defensive consistency, this year he has received far more praise. The problem is his bat, which seems to be coming along at a snail's pace.
Mark Says: Part of his struggles is the strange way the Mets have handled him. In another organization he might have just made his full season debut this year. He's been clearly overmatched every step of the way; struggling to make hard contact, hitting for just a touch power, and not drawing many walks. The good news is he has also improved in this department as well. His second tour of duty in the SAL was far less brutal than his first, though still not worth getting very excited over. Particularly encouraging was the much more balanced GB/LD/FB rates in 2008. Then after a dreadful start to his career in the FSL this year, he's actually managed to finally flash some of his raw power by hitting five HR in July, a career best in any calendar month, and particularly impressive for such a young player in the pitcher friendly FSL. A 7.3% HR/FB for a 19 year old in a league where homers go to die is quite encouraging. Also encouraging is the fact that he's maintained last year's more balance batted ball profiled, which bodes well for his power production moving forward. His contact and walk rates still haven't improved, in fact they've regressed, which is troubling. But considering he looks like he's turning into a plus defensive catcher, you have to be happy with any kind of offensive glimmer of hope. He's still young enough where there's plenty of time for him to figure out how to hit, and if he can maintain his conditioning and become a dependable defensive backstop, he should still have a nice chance of becoming a big league backup at least. Whether he'll ever earn a starting job will be a question of how much offense he finds over the next few years.
Sam Says: MY EYES!! THE GOGGLES...THEY DO NOTHING! The similarities between his LD% for this year and 2008 are interesting and make me wonder whether he got some bad luck this year, good luck last year, or whether the LD% are just messed up, which is a distinct possibility with these minor league batted ball profiles. I wouldn't say the walk rate has regressed, as a decline of sorts should be expected when promoting such a young player from SALLY to the Florida State League. Without getting too much further in the minutiae of this data, however, it's important to take a step back and remember how monumentally bad Pena has been every season so far in the minors. The Mets rushed him, yes. He's got time, yes. But sometime, he's got to hit. Stocking your minor leagues with defensive minded players are premium positions, who have some offensive upside, is always a good strategy, so I suppose we'll wait and see.
John Sickels: He sucks. He can't hit and I don't think he'll start. He has a good arm but is still raw behind the plate. Maybe he'll make it as a backup, but I don't buy him as a regular at all.
Kevin Goldstein: The son of Tony Pena, who won four Gold Gloves in the 1980s, Pena was a big-budget signing out of the Dominican three years ago, but he spent his first two years doing little offensively in the Low-A Sally League. Still just 19, his overall batting line is still a poor .237/.281/.369, but he's as hot as he has ever been as a pro of late, going 8-for-16 in his last three games with a home run in each one. A plus defender, he's still got a chance to turn into a solid big league backstop.
Fun With Comps
Disclaimer: The funky ARL path the Mets have put Pena on combined with his somewhat peculiar size for such a young catcher have made him something of an oddity. As such, in contrast to other comp sections we have been running, Pena's will be more about how we might hope/expect his career to turn out, rather than how he's faring right now compared to others who went onto have success or not.
1) Scott Boras Says: Jim Sundberg
The second overall pick in the 1973 draft, Sundberg was a catcher whose bat developed just enough to make him an extremely useful player in the majors. During his peak, Sundberg's BA hovered around .270 with good plate discipline and very modest power. The comparison comes with Pena as a good-sized catcher and a plus-defender who was a 4.5-WAR player in his prime and a .5 WAR catcher when his body couldn't handle the demands of full time catching. Good defense and passable bat, however, make him a the 25th best catcher all time, despite durability issues in his later career.
2) Impartial Observer says: Tony Pena, Sr.
Since ARL comps are so hard to come by with Pena, his famous bloodlines seem like the next logical place to look, and who better than Frankie's pop? A strong defender behind the plate, Pena feigned offensive competency for a long enough time to carry a starting job at the big league level for a number of years. While Tony's good offensive years were almost all built with solid batting averages and a bit of power, we might expect Pena's to favor power over contact right now, though that's more conjecture than anything else, and we'll likely have to wait until Pena isn't two or three years younger than the rest of his league before we can make such an assertion with any kind of certainty. As it was, Tony's defense and varying degrees of decent offense yielded some productive overall seasons, and he topped out at a 5.5 WAR in 1984, though generally stayed around 1.5-3.5 through his prime.
3) Steve Phillips Says: Ramon Castro (minus bat?)
Now, we all lovingly remember Ramon as the better offensive catcher option the Mets never took proper advantage of these last couple years, but he does tell us a few things about the low end expectation for what Pena might become, as well provide a reasonable physical comparison. Though Pena may never hit as well as Castro, he is a good enough backstop where he should be able to eventually find himself a second string job on a big league team as a defensive specialist whose primary offensive weapon is a touch of power. Defense behind the plate is always at a premium, and so long as Pena can maintain his conditioning and defensive work ethic, adding consistent Blastro-type power would only serve to make him more valuable than this comp implies. The flipside to this is that when big guys like Castro and Pena play such a physically demanding position, conditioning really can become a major issue. If Pena's bulk winds up taking a toll on his mobility, he would really need to be able to produce offensively the way Castro has to carry a backup job, though in both cases pure arm strength is a nice tool to fall back on that will carry some base defensive value by itself.
Peak WAR: 4.0
Median WAR: 0.5