There was a lot to like about Jeremy Pena as a draft prospect a couple of years ago- he’s the son of a big league veteran, Geronimo Pena, and his defense has consistently been close to the top of the scale at a premium position in shortstop. He’s also had strong bat to ball skills dating back to his University of Maine days, where he hit .311/.396/.472 as a junior. Despite those traits, Pena was seen as merely a day 2 prospect in his draft year, with evaluators harping on what was seen as a total lack of power, concerns that were not tempered by his weak wood bat performance in the 2017 Cape Cod League.
Pena seemed to hear the chatter about his lack of pop, and came into the 2019 season with 15-20 pounds of new muscle, largely in his upper body, seeking to silence doubts about his strength. The gains immediately translated to the batter’s box- Pena opened the 2019 season with Low-A Quad Cities and shredded the opposition to the tune of a .293/.389/.421 slash line, showing off a strong, line-drive oriented approach with plenty of walks. That performance earned him a swift promotion to High-A Fayetteville, where his batting average and isolated power actually spiked, with his slash line moving to .317/.378/.467 in 43 games.
Pena attempted to keep the train rolling into the autumn, taking an assignment to the Arizona Fall League, where his momentum stalled with a weak .183/.248/.290 line. While not an encouraging development, it’s likely that fatigue was a factor on the heels of 109 games played in the regular season, by far a career high for Pena. He was also selected in the first round of the Dominican Winter League draft, but injury prevented him from appearing.
Reports from the 2019 season universally note an increase in pop for Pena, who still doesn’t show much in the way of over the fence power, but now hits the ball with much more authority and shows the ingredients to at least hit for strong averages at the upper levels. It has been noted that Pena got more pull-heavy with his added strength, but in the past he has shown an ability to spray the ball around and his hit tool projection overall is looking much stronger now than it did a year ago.
It also doesn’t appear that Pena was satisfied with his gains during the last offseason, as he’s once again training hard to add strength. This recent feature from WPRI details his efforts gearing up for the 2020 season, and he’s looking big:
Jeremy Pena is keeping himself at peak condition ahead of the 2020 season. ⚾️@JPena221 trains and recaps his first full season for @WPRI12 out of Providence, RI in this feature:https://t.co/3tOW2fIy6K pic.twitter.com/xdtVFb2SHh— Fayetteville Woodpeckers (@WoodpeckersNC) January 29, 2020
It remains to be seen just how much power Pena will be able to add, but the progress he’s already made as a pro is encouraging. If 2019 was just the beginning of an offensive transformation, there is potential here for Pena to develop into a top 100 type of player. Baseball Prospectus feels he’s already there, ranking him 100th on the dot in their recent Top 101 list, and Baseball America also gave him a nod in the “others receiving votes” section of their list. FanGraphs was less bullish, ranking him 11th in the Astros system with a 40+ FV, but they nonetheless said that they view Pena as a likely big league utility player, and would likely bump him up quickly with continued offensive production at higher levels.
With his stellar performance in A-ball last season, the Astros should feel very comfortable assigning Pena to Double-A Corpus Christi to open 2020. If he can show further power gains while maintaining his agility at short, there should be plenty of national attention to follow. If all goes according to plan, we could see him providing infield support for the Astros as soon as 2021.