In February, I wrote this post on shortstop Jeremy Pena, a deft, projectable infielder whom the Astros drafted in the third round of the 2018 draft. In his draft year, Pena was far ahead of the pack as far as glovework was concerned. Many evaluators pegged him as a present plus shortstop, and he had two outstanding offensive college campaigns to his name as well as a career 30-for-34 stolen base mark. Regardless of his appealing defense and baserunning, teams were wary of Pena’s competition level and slight build, and he slid into the second day of the draft.
Pena’s wait didn’t last too long, as the Astros used their first selection of the day on the Maine star. He handled himself well in his first taste of pro ball with Tri-City, posting strong strikeout and walk rates, and positioned himself as a top-30 organizational prospect. For a player seen as having a relatively low ceiling, Pena showed a deep toolset and mature approach, and the only question seemed to be whether or not he’d hit the ball with enough authority.
In the offseason, Pena attacked his profile’s biggest weakness by adding twenty pounds of muscle to his 6’0” frame, nearing the 200 lb. barrier, and thus far it appears it’s been a boon to his performance. His frequent contact in 2018 only translated to a .250 batting average with a tiny .059 ISO, and his BABIP sat at .282 despite his above-average wheels. The added strength appears to have given Pena’s bat a hearty dose of juice- he hit .293/.389/.421 while chipping in 17 steals with Quad Cities to earn a promotion, and has taken things to a new level in Fayetteville.
With the Woodpeckers, Pena got off to a bit of a slow start, but quickly turned on the jets. In his 20 games with the team, he’s slashing a sterling .325/.361/.519 with 10 extra-base hits out of his 25 knocks, including 3 triples to bring his season total to 7. It’s a big step in the right direction for Pena, who managed just 6 extra-base knocks in his 154 plate appearances in 2018. The only mark against his performance in the Carolina League thus far is a lack of walks, but given the small sample size, Pena’s track record thus far and how hot of a bat he is swinging, that shouldn’t be a concern.
With his performance thus far in 2019, Pena has gone a long way in assuaging concerns about his light bat- the only real weakness in his game. While significant home run power is unlikely to manifest, the quality of contact this season has been at a new level, and the performance has been there to match. Seen as a glove-only player by many in the pre-draft process, Pena’s profile is starting to look more similar to Kevin Newman or Nicky Lopez than a traditional end-of-the bench infielder.
With a combination of multiple above average tools and a great makeup that was fostered by his ex-big league dad, Geronimo Pena, Jeremy looks poised to continue a fast rise through the minor leagues en route to a major league career of his own. If he continues to hit at his current clip, a Double-A cup of coffee before the end of 2019, and barring anything unforeseen he’ll start the 2020 campaign there. He’s on a relatively fast track and could be a major league contributor by 2021- with the skills to stick around long-term. While he doesn’t ooze superstar potential, overlooking Pena is a mistake- and it’ll likely become increasingly difficult to do.