Last week, the Red Sox addressed their minor league pitching staff, as they signed relief pitcher Tony Pena Jr. to a minor league contract. While this move may easily be viewed as another pointless signing, it certainly has a story to it.
Pena, the son for former Red Sox catcher Tony Pena (who now serves as the bench coach for the New York Yankees) hasn't always been a pitcher in his career. In fact, he once was a top middle infielder in the Atlanta Braves farm system. Pena debuted with the Braves in 2006 as a rookie shortstop, but has since fallen from grace.
The 2010 season marked Pena's first season as a pitcher. Although he never made it to the big leagues, Pena is taking the necessary steps to becoming a pitcher. Let's recap the interesting career of the new Red Sox pitcher:
While a youngster with the Braves, Pena was a very highly thought of prospect given his tremendous ability with the glove coming up. He never really developed a lot of hitting skills, however. Pena just managed a .227 batting average with one home run and three RBIs in his debut season with the Braves. Although he only played in 40 games, those aren't the best of numbers.
The Braves decided to trade Pena that offseason to the Kansas City Royals for prospect Erik Cordier. Pena went to a Royals team that would allow him to be their everyday shortstop, playing 152 games for KC in 2007 as he hit a career-high .266 with two home runs and 47 RBIs. Pena also hit a team-high seven triples that season. He seemed to be hitting more for average, but was still lacking with the power numbers. There was optimism that Pena had finally found the ability to hit.
Pena seemed to have impressed the Royals enough to once again head into next season's Spring Training as the starting shortstop. This is where it all began to head downhill for Tony Pena Jr. the middle-infielder.
The 27-year old Pena had an awful year for the Royals in 2008, as he only hit .169 with one home run and 14 RBIs. Pena was eventually benched by manager Trey Hillman and replaced by Mike Aviles. Forced into a utility role for the Royals, Pena was used primarily as a defensive replacement.
Then, one day, Royals manager Trey Hillman decided to use Pena as a relief pitcher in a 19-4 blowout to serve in a mop-up role. Pena did very well, as he threw a scoreless inning in relief including a strikeout.
During another miserable season as a hitter in 2009, Pena was sent down to AAA where he would begin a new stage of his career. Pena took Hillman's advice and decided to become a full-time pitcher in the minors. 2009 marked the last season that Pena Jr. would ever swing a bat in the major leagues or commit another error at shortstop. At least to date.
Pena was granted his release in 2010, signing with the San Francisco Giants that offseason on a minor league contract. Although Pena never made it to the majors in 2010, he registered a 4.13 ERA in 76 innings of work with the Giants AA and AAA affiliates, starting strong in AA before struggling after a promotion. Pena's fastball topped out at about 89-94 MPH, but his other pitches need work.
"I knew I could do the job defensively, but I was struggling with the bat, and when you want to do what you enjoy for a living, you have to be willing to make every effort to make it work.''
Although it is extremely unlikely that Pena will make the majors this year for the Red Sox, he looks to make progress towards doing so this season in the Red Sox farm system that once allowed Ron Mahay--outfielder turned relief pitcher--a second chance at the majors.