Last Friday night, the Braves didn’t just win a baseball game….they beat the preseason NL East favorites at their home park in 10 innings. The hero of the game, Ramiro Pena said after his 10th inning two-run homer, “I was feeling good, I saw the pitcher and I thought I’m going to take a chance. I just wanted to concentrate on one pitch. It was a good thing that I didn’t miss it.” Yes, a very good thing Ramiro. However, as he has been doing his job very well this season, the question still exists: Where did this guy come from?
Pena is the son and nephew of Alfonso and Paulino Pena, who played professional baseball for the Monterey Sultanes. In 2004, the 19 year-old Pena signed a minor league deal with the New York Yankees to fill in the organization’s depth at shortstop. He was never supposed to hit for power at all, but at the time was described as having an above-average glove.
In 2005, his first season as a minor leaguer in the Yankees farm system, he spent time in both A+ and AA leagues where he hit around .249 with 2 total home runs. Since that 2005 season, he went from one minor league team to another in every season since, excluding the 2007, 2008, and 2012 seasons. However, in those 3 season where he was not moved around, he hit .252, .266, and .258 (which were among the highest of his batting averages in the minors).
Then came 2009. Filling in for the Yankees as a utility player, Pena hit .287 in 115 at-bats, and also hit one of his three career home runs. Since that year, Pena only hit .227, .100, and .250 (only 4 at-bats). In the total for those years, his WAR and RAR were negative.
At the “prime age” of 27 years old, the Yankees granted free agency to Pena on November 3, 2012. Then, on December 20, 2012 the Atlanta Braves scooped him up as a free agent and gave him a one year $550,000 contract. He competed in spring training and won a spot on the 2013 opening day roster with the Braves after hitting a slash line of .320/.414/.440 while playing multiple positions and solid in the field.
Now, as of Sunday April 14, 2013, Ramiro Pena is hitting .333 with 6 RBI. His glove has been as good as advertised, as he is yet to make an error. It is simply his bat that has opened eyes. His current Runs Above Replacement sits at 3 for this year, and his total WAR is positive (0.6) for the first time since 2010 when it was (0.3). On Friday night, Pena put the Braves on the winning track in a big game in Washington with a big 2 run home run, and finished the weekend 4 for 9 with a homer and two walks.
For the price the Braves are paying him, he has been a steal at this point in the season. Looking forward, I do see Pena cooling down at the plate, and his average to creep down into the .260’s. However with his glove, I see him keeping his job as the utility infielder for the near future at least. Maybe he can keep on not missing that one pitch….