Ramiro Pena has an opportunity to find a home as a backup infielder for the San Francisco Giants, and after re-upping with the team on another minor-league contract this past December, the utility man will have another crack at establishing a role with the big league club.
Before signing with the San Francisco Giants last offseason, Ramiro Peña was both a career journeyman and minor leaguer rolled into one. The New York Yankees signed Peña in December of 2005 out of the Mexican League, then touted as a slick fielding shortstop with excellent range and a bit of offensive upside. Before the 2006 season, he ranked as the No. 41 prospect of the Yankees’ farm system.
Despite batting .255 over three seasons in the minors, New York consistently promoted Peña, the only road block being a two-and-a-half year stint with the Trenton Thunder. Peña cracked the team’s Opening Day roster in 2009, but jumped back-and-forth between Triple-A and the majors. Over 121 plate appearances in that season, Peña bat a somewhat empty .287 for the eventual World Series champions as his weighted on-base average was only .309.
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New York again selected Peña for the team’s Opening Day roster in 2010, but he noticeably struggled at the plate, slashing a measly .227/.258/.247. His glove couldn’t compensate for his bat, and he finished the year with a WAR of -0.2. From 2010 on, Peña struggled to find his footing with New York and spent most of 2011 and 2012 in the minor leagues.
Peña signed a one-year, $550,000 contract with the Atlanta Braves for the 2013 season and played fairly well in 50 games before suffering a season-ending right shoulder injury, batting .278 with an OPS of .773 and a trio of home runs to his name.
Atlanta re-signed Peña to avoid arbitration, but Peña did not enjoy a similar level of success, batting .245 in 165 plate appearances. Following the 2014 season, the Braves designated Peña for assignment, but the infielder refused the assignment and opted for free agency. Peña agreed to a minor league contract with the San Diego Padres but did not see a big league diamond in 2015.
San Francisco inked Peña to a minor-league deal in December of 2015, but after a less than stellar string of games in Scottsdale, batting .238 with an OPS of .630, the Giants assigned him to the Sacramento River Cats for 2016.
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Peña shook off a bad spring and excelled with the River Cats, batting .326 in April and .336 in May, establishing himself as one of Sacramento’s best hitters. When Kelby Tomlinson injured his thumb diving for a ball against the Boston Red Sox, the San Francisco Giants purchased his contract and promoted him to join the big league team.
As the secondary option off the bench, Peña initially did not see consistent playing time, but when San Francisco placed Matt Duffy on the disabled list with a strained Achilles, Bruce Bochy out of necessity began to insert Peña into the starting lineup more frequently.
Bochy not only played Peña at third base to replaced the injured Duffy, but also at shortstop when Brandon Crawford required rest and second base when the Giants placed Joe Panik on the disabled list with concussion symptoms.
With two members of San Francisco’s infield core out of commission for the time being, Peña ensured the team’s offensive production didn’t take a hit, batting .400/.417/.514 over 36 plate appearances in June and finished July with a batting average of .299 on the season. Peña showed off a bit of power as well, knocking one out from the left side at Petco Park.
The infielder dodged the injury bug a couple of times during his tenure with San Francisco. On June 29th when playing second base, he collided with Mac Williamson and sprained his ankle, but did not cause him to miss significant time. Almost a month later on July 26th, Ivan De Jesus of the Cincinnati Reds hit a screaming one-hopper to the hot corner which bounced and hit Peña in the groin area, which luckily resulted in him only missing one game.
When Hunter Pence returned to the team following a right hamstring injury, San Francisco could not find room for Peña on their roster and designated him for assignment. He would finish the season with Sacramento, batting .240 over eight games in his return.
Peña shares similarities with other infielders who are in competition for a spot on the bench. Peña can bat from both sides of the plate, similar to Ehire Adrianza and Jimmy Rollins, and can play second base, third base, and shortstop like Kelby Tomlinson, but this ultimately leads to his classification as a jack of all trades, but a master of none.
There are a few glaring discrepancies in Peña’s game, particularly with the bat. The infielder strikes out less than the league average, both in the majors and minors, but has never been one to draw walks at even an average clip. He may have the ability to hit from both sides of the plate, but Peña may want to bat exclusively from the left side considering he’s a career .181 hitter against left-handed pitching in his major league career. Peña has never fielded particularly well at second base and has a UZR/150 of -16.1 over 449 career innings at the position.
The 31-year-old’s performance with the bat last season should at minimum spark San Francisco’s curiosity. Drawing walks simply isn’t a part of Peña’s game, which could hurt him moving forward, but the Giants cannot brush him off after he hit .297 over 336 plate appearances with Sacramento and San Francisco. While second base isn’t his forte, he fields fairly well on the left side of the infield at short and third.
Peña is certainly a curious case for the San Francisco Giants. He does not possess the seniority of Rollins nor the youth of Adrianza, Tomlinson, or even Orlando Calixte, but at the very least he has proven himself as a serviceable tertiary infield option off the bench. San Francisco’s reserves are not set in stone, and Peña will continue to stir the pot this upcoming spring.