November 8th, 2022
Well, that was a fun season, wasn’t it?
Obviously, there is still baseball being played, and in my world, we are paying a lot of attention to the Arizona Fall League still and how prospects are doing in winter ball. But we also understand that the end of the World Series marks the end of the season for many baseball fans.
It makes for a natural time to self-reflect. At MLB Pipeline, we are in the business of trying to project the future based on what the scouting and player development industry tells us. We try to get it as right as possible, but just like it’s often said that hitting a baseball is the hardest single act in sports to do successfully, being able to project who is going to be good at that, and who is going to be good at keeping hitters from doing that, is also extremely difficult. It’s a big reason why I make sure to extol and praise the hard work scouts put in to find the next generation of the game’s stars.
I’m also quick to point out when we are wrong and not to get too cocky when we get someone right in terms of our rankings. I was thinking about all of this while watching Astros rookie Jeremy Peña look like a seasoned veteran through a very special postseason run. My colleague Jim Callis and I split up the country when it comes to our Draft coverage, and New England is my territory. I definitely remember talking to area scouts about Peña, who played his college ball at the University of Maine, not exactly a baseball hotbed, as the 2018 Draft approached.
We had Geronimo Peña’s kid at No. 168 on what was our Draft Top 200 at the time. There was talent there, especially on the defensive side, but there were questions about his bat. He hadn’t hit in the Cape Cod League in 2017 and while he performed better in his Draft season, there was concern about his approach and swing-and-miss issues. Let’s take a look at his report:
It seems more often than not, prospects who play shortstop in college have to move to another position when they begin their pro careers. Peña is an exception to that rule as an infielder who definitely can stick at the premium position. How much a team believes he’ll hit will ultimately determine his Draft status.
Clearly area scout Bobby St. Pierre thought he’d hit enough, as did then crosschecker and now scouting director Kris Gross, and that’s why they took him in the third round that June. Some more details on what scouts were saying:
A product of the Providence, Rhode Island, high school ranks who went on to the University of Maine, Peña profiles as a solid-to-plus defender who can play shortstop at any level. He has good speed that leads to excellent range and possesses the strong arm and footwork necessary to excel at the demanding spot. At the plate, Peña does have some strength and raw power, enough where some see 15 homers annually as a reasonable projection. But that’s only if he makes enough consistent contact to get to that power. There’s length to his right-handed swing, which leads to some swing-and-miss issues with an, at times, overly aggressive approach.
Jeremy Peña WS breakdown
We had the defense nailed pretty well, didn’t we? It’s a big reason why the Astros were willing to make him their shortstop after Carlos Correa left. They knew he’d be a huge asset in the field, regardless of how he hit. And he rewarded their faith by winning a Gold Glove, the first time a rookie shortstop has ever won the award.
As for his offense, it should be noted at as amazing as he was in the postseason, there is still work to be done in terms of what’s described above. He did outstrip power projections already, with 22 homers in 2022, but his 135/22 K/BB ratio during the regular season does point to a need to keep refining that approach for him to continue doing what he’s done so far. Here’s the third graf of the report:
Some of that can be corrected mechanically once he gets to pro ball, and shortening him up will likely be a primary objective for whatever team drafts him. With his defensive profile, being able to unlock a more consistent bat could produce an everyday big league shortstop.
He’s a hitter who relies on rhythm and timing. In the ALCS and the World Series, he was on time much more often than not. That allowed him to post a combined .345/.367/.638 line throughout the postseason and his nine extra-base hits (seven in the LCS and WS) are a big reason why he won MVP honors both in the League Championship Series and the World Series.
I bring up the approach, and the strikeouts, not to rain on his parade, but to show that there’s still tremendous room for growth. And it’s clear he learns from his experiences, making some outstanding adjustments as he and the Astros moved on in the postseason. Spend any time with Peña — I got to speak to him during his time in the 2019 Arizona Fall League — and you can tell he carries himself like someone who belongs. His ability to step up when the spotlight was at its brightest surprised no one who has seen his maturity and desire to improve up close.
Peña will be just 25 for nearly all of the 2023 season and I’m sure some will be looking to see if there’s any sophomore slump after a Rookie of the Year-contending first campaign. In many ways, he’s already far out-performed that Draft report. And I think he’s just getting started.