Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers – #73 Ariel Peña

BBtJN LogoHappy Friday!

T.G.I.F!

T.G.I.Fridays…

…Friday’s Front Row Grill…

…at Miller Park…

…Brewers…

…Opening Day…

…73 days until Opening Day…

…Oh! Time to talk about…

Ariel Peña.

pena

Peña will be wearing number 73 this Spring Training, but you already knew that based on the premise of the “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” series.

Allow me to educate you on some things you may not know about the 6’3″, 190 pound, 23-year-old, right-handed starting pitching prospect of your Milwaukee Brewers.

From a personal standpoint, Peña hails from the Dominican Republic. He was born on May 20, 1989 in Los Jovillos.

Now as far as baseball goes let’s begin in that Peña was signed as an international free agent back before the 2007 season by the The Angels Angels of Not Los Angeles but in fact Anaheim, California, PST. His first professional season in affiliated ball was in 2007 when he pitched in the Dominican Summer League on behalf of the Angels. He was brought to the United States to continue his development in 2009, following two good-looking seasons in the DoSL.

As a 20-year-old in 2009, Peña has a strong season while pitching in rookie ball. He pitched in both Class-A and Class-A Advanced in 2010 and then pitched a full season in Class-A Advanced (with a singular spot start in Triple-A) in 2011.

Last season saw the promising starting pitcher take the next step in advancement as he was assigned to the Double-A Arkansas Travelers. Peña was ranked as the ninth-best prospect in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, PST’s farm system heading into the 2012 season. He lived up to the hype in Arkansas posting a line of: 19 G (all starts), 1 CG, 114.1 IP, 95 H, 43 R (38 earned), 2.99 ERA, 42 BB, 111 K, 1.198 WHIP, 8.7 K/9

Peña was a little homer prone as a Traveler, surrendering 14 long balls (12.4% of his outfield fly balls allowed), but nothing egregious. He pitched well enough during the first “half” of the year that he was selected as a member of the World team for the All-Star Weekend Future’s Game in Kansas City. It was at Kaufmann Stadium where some serious dents would be forced, hard, into Peña’s armor.

The USA team won that game by a final score of 17-5 (here is the box score, if you’re so inclined) and Ariel Peña’s line from that game reads thusly:

0.1 IP, 7 H, 8 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 0 HR, 216.00 ERA

Unfortunately, my decimal point is not misplaced. It was an epic display of futility. I recall vividly watching the game and cringing anew at each batter Peña was left in to face. I felt bad for the kid by the end of it. “What a meltdown on a pretty big stage,” I thought.

Then, for a week or two, I had forgotten all about the performance. Ariel Peña was no longer a blip on my radar … at least not until it became pretty apparent that the Brewers were looking to trade Zack Greinke.

In looking around the league at teams which wanted Greinke and who they could offer in return, Peña’s name caught my eye. His stats in Arkansas were still quite good. You can see the numbers he finished with as a Traveler back a couple of paragraphs. But when word came down officially that the Angels were going to acquire Greinke and that Peña was part of the package coming back to Milwaukee, I was reminded about his Future’s Game performance. It was then that I went back and looked at his final starts between then and what was now. I’ll admit it, I was worried what I might find.

The Futures Game was played on July 8th. Peña’s first start back was July 14th. He would make three more starts for the Travelers before the trade came down. His combined stats in those games: 19.2 IP, 13 H, 7 R (7 ER), 4 HR, 7 BB, 18 K.

Two of the starts were seven full innings with a total of two earned runs surrendered (both in the first game on solo home runs). The middle game was a bad outing in which Peña went 5.2 innings pitching allowing five earned on five hits, including two home runs, and four walks. The key here that put me more as ease was that his last outing before Doug Melvin pulled the trigger was a 7.0 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 1 BB, 8 K effort.

In short (too late!), the Future’s Game hadn’t affected his psyche like I had feared.

What happened after the trade is a matter of some confusion. Perhaps it was becoming acclimated to his new surroundings, mostly new teammates, new stadium, new routine, et cetera, et cetera, but over the seven starts he had remaining in 2012, Peña produced only two “quality starts” and had four where his ERA was at least 9.00.

He had one very good start of 7.0 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 HR, 3 BB, 6 K in his second outing as a Huntsville Star. Three starts later he would post his second “quality start”. This came one start after what was easily his worst outing of the year outside of Kansas City. Instead of being worried, I decided to actually be encouraged by the fact that this young player has shown more than once that he will respond positively to adversity. That’s a necessary quality in a starting pitcher at the big league level. When you’re facing the best of the best every single day (well, unless you catch Houston) at the Major League level, you will have bad outings. The ability to rebound off of a bad outing is paramount. Peña appears to have shown a propensity for that.

Scouts differ though on how all of that combines into projectability for a would-be starting pitcher.

One report I found said that Peña was “underwhelming in person” and that while the Brewers are likely hoping for more due to Peña’s durable frame, the writer said that Peña profiles as a “prototypical 7th inning reliever.”

As with any player, the true outcome will be determined by how he adjusts to the increasing level of competition as he advances up an organizational chain. The road to The Show is littered with the arms of promising players who couldn’t adjust. I don’t feel that Peña’s lot will be that, but he must improve in 2013 over a 7.24 ERA in 7 starts over 32.1 IP in which he allowed 40 hits and 23 walks.

He’s got a bit of wildness to him that can’t be ignored but his big fastball (reportedly touching 98 MPH), low 90’s sinker, and “wipeout” slider would make for a repertoire that can hang in a starting rotation. The best part though is that Peña is still young enough to harness his stuff at some point and still have a long and productive MLB career.

Peña will report to Spring Training no later than February 12th. He’ll train as a starting pitcher and throw as one once being sent back over to the minor league side. And while Spring Training numbers can’t always (and never should) be relied on to paint the picture of the upcoming regular season, once the lights go on Peña is going to a player to watch. Was he a “throw in” in the Zack Greinke deal as one evaluator stated? Or is he going to contribute as a starting pitcher one day at the big league level? Time will tell. The true test starts in April.

Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:

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