This is the kind of post that can make one look foolish when the subject of early-season praise turns into a pumpkin by mid-season. But something about the way Jeremy Pena carries himself tells me he is the real deal.
Sure, he has not even made his way around the majors one time and the other teams will force him to adjust, but his fielding is top-notch, which should not go away and there is no reason to expect his bat to turn into a Martin Maldonado clone. (Sorry, Maldy but a clutch bases-loaded double does not undo the fact you don’t hit in about 88% of your at bats).
So, how do we love Jeremy Pena, let me count the ways…..
His Fielding. He has made too many errors to date (6), but hopefully he will work to reduce that, most of them have been on routine plays. That can be fixed. And even though he does not have Carlos Correa‘s gun (who does), he has an above-average arm. But what is exciting about him is that he is so quick and seems to get to more balls than his predecessor did. He is averaging about 4.2 chances per game. Correa averaged about 3.8 chances per game last year, which matches his career average.
His Power. The kid’s bat is electric. The ball jumps off that bat like a politician leaping from a failed policy bandwagon. It is hard to recall any of his 7 home runs to date that was a Crawford Box special and not a deep laser. Will he keep up his current HR pace (28) for the year? Probably not, but remember that Correa topped out with 26 homers and he did that in his walk away year. Also, Pena has room to beef up a bit, though we hope that does not take away from his other attributes.
His Hitting. His slash to date is a solid .277 BA/ .338 OBP/ .851 OPS. Among AL SS’s (for those at bats taken as a SS), his 7 HRs are 2nd and his 21 RBIs are 1st. What would fans have expected out of him as a rookie coming into 2022? Probably a .240 BA/ .310 OB/ .700 OPS with like 15 HRs and 50 RBIs. But he has already shown a decent K rate and BB rate and when needed the ability to hit it the other way.
His Speed. He has only attempted two steals but made it on both attempts, but he has also shown lots of speed on the basepaths in being more than a station to station player. He also appears to have a lot of baseball savvy in his “run” game.
His Ability to Seize the Moment. He hit a home run while the national crew was interviewing his parents in his second major league game. He hit a homer with all his family attending at Fenway Park the home of the team he cheered for growing up. He hit the two-run walk-off in the 10th against Toronto to flip a game they looked like they were going to lose. He looks like he will have many more moments like that along the way.
His Poise. This was not an easy thing to ask someone to do. No matter how much you may tell him to be himself, there has to be a big elephant in the back of the brain whispering that you are taking the place of one of the top shortstops in the game. It probably helped that his dad Geronimo Pena played in the majors for 7 seasons, because he has been a young man who looks like no moment is too large for him.
His Overall Game. His overall value is a conglomeration of all that is discussed above and reflected in that stat number called WAR. (WAR is a number that attempts to show relative value for all the things a player can do on the field and not just hitting). His 2.0 WAR is sixth in the American League (10th in all of baseball) and only trails teammate Kyle Tucker (2.1) for the lead on the Astros.
The young man will obviously face ups and downs over time, but he looks like he will have more ups than downs and will be a fun player to follow along the way.