Houston Astros MLB

Like Father, Like Infielder: Houston Astros’ Jeremy Pena Follows Footsteps Of Cardinals’ Geronimo Pena

Houston Astros infielder Jeremy Pena, the team’s ninth-ranked prospect, doesn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the lead, but his .317 second half average would be pacing the Carolina League if he did.

Pena, with a ticket to punch for the 2019 Arizona Fall League (AFL), has been a spark plug at the top of Houston’s Advanced-A Fayetteville Woodpeckers’ lineup, and has been eye-opening in the field with just three errors in 70 chances.

Slated to join Pena on the AFL’s Peoria Javelinas, September 18-October 26, are fellow Astros position player prospects JJ Matijevic (1B, ranked #18), Colton Shaver (3B, C), and pitchers Forrest Whitley (#2, MLB #17), Carlos Sanabria, and Jojanse Torres. Pena will turn 22 four days after the AFL begins.

Utility Profile Growing

While mostly a shortstop, the right-handed Pena has shown Marwin Gonzalez-like flexibility at second base (17 games) in his pro career, while also logging 17 games at third in summer league ball three years ago.

The son of former seven-year MLB infielder Geronimo Pena (now 52), the six-foot Jeremy is a slick defender who has actually hit much better than expected (.303/.385/.440) in this, his first full pro season. So much for the all-field, no-hit tag he may have come in with. An offseason conditioning regimen has reportedly lifted Jeremy’s weight from a listed 180 to near 200 pounds.

A Father’s Labor of Glove

Jeremy Joan Pena was born September 22, 1997, in the coastal Dominican capital city of Santo Domingo, just eight miles southeast of papa Geronimo’s birthplace of Los Alcarrizos. The family moved to the states when little Jeremy was nine years old, taking up residence in Providence, Rhode Island.

Geronimo, a .262 lifetime switch-hitter in six years with the St. Louis Cardinals, proved to be a valuable baseball coach for his diamond progeny, teaching Jeremy batting and fielding techniques he’d otherwise have learned much later. Jeremy was born about a year after his father left the game, a retirement which came right after a brief five-game stint with the Cleveland Indians in 1996.

The Maine Course

Jeremy attended Classical High School in Providence and starred in both baseball and cross country. His triumphs included a state championship for track and field and two nominations to the All-Division team for Rhode Island. Pena was captain of the diamond Purples in his senior year, earning a .390 batting average in the process.

Pena was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 39th round of the 2015 MLB Draft. His decision to attend college not only garnered him an education and more on-field challenges but increased his draft stock and eventual payday by 36 rounds and half-a-million dollars, respectively, the next time a draft opportunity surfaced.

A classical coaching connection with the baseball program at the University of Maine (in Orono, eight miles from Bangor) opened the door for Jeremy to move north and focus on baseball.

His freshman year for the Black Bears saw him steal 11 bases, compile a .283 batting average, and earn a spot on the American East All-Rookie Team. He utilized his speed in his sophomore year as he totaled 72 hits, four of which were triples, with six home runs.

In his junior and final campaign for Maine, Pena topped the team in triples with five and finished second on the team with a .308 average. Stealing 10 bases and popping five home runs helped him land a spot on the American East Second-Team.

Third Round + 102nd Pick Overall = $535 Million Signing Bonus (Almost a Third of Dad’s Combined Career Salary)

“It’s an honor to play for this great organization,” Jeremy beamed after hearing his name called by the ‘Stros in the 2018 draft. Pena was able to have his parents, grandmother, and younger brother gathered around the TV watching when his name was announced.

“What they’ve been able to do in the past couple of years —World Champions, and the way they’re still going about their game, it’s very exciting.”

One of the best defensive shortstops in the 2018 college class, Jeremy is currently the top defender among shortstops in the Houston system.

Scanning the Scouting Reports

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 40 | Run: 55 | Arm: 60 | Field: 60 | Overall: 45

MLB.com opines: “His quick first step and smooth actions give him plenty of range, and he has a plus arm to make all of the necessary throws. His tools will allow him to play anywhere in the infield and serve as a utility man if he doesn’t hit enough to become an everyday player.

“Pena makes regular contact to all fields and has a patient approach. He has the strength to do some damage at the plate, and the Astros are working with him to try to unlock some power in his right-handed swing. He has solid speed and an aggressive nature on the bases.”

An early coach compared Pena to the Boston Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts, but Jeremy actually favors a self-comp of fellow Dominican Jose Reyes (New York Mets) as being more accurate.

Space City Launch

Pena was named to the 2018 short season New York-Penn League All-Star team, as a member of Houston’s Class A Tri-City ValleyCats.

Pena began his pro career appearing in 36 games with the Cats while hitting .250, ranking second on the team with 22 runs scored, with 10 RBIs, five doubles, and a homer.

Pena has been advancing through Houston’s organization at an encouraging pace: For 2019, he began at the full season Midwest League Class A Quad Cities, slashing a .293/.389/.421 in 66 games. Extra base hits were a welcome bonus for the River Bandits, to the tune of eight doubles, four triples, and five homers to go with a healthy 35 walks against 57 strikeouts in 289 plate appearances.

A late June promotion brought Pena to High-A Fayetteville, where he’s currently helping the Woodpeckers through the Carolina League playoffs. The ‘Peckers were crowned second half champions of the league’s Southern Division.

Helping them get there was Pena’s .317/.378/.467 line and another sack full of extra-base hits: 13 doubles, three triples, and two dingers in 185 PAs. Pena’s nearly 3/1 K/BB rate (33/12) shouldn’t concern many, while his 2019 combined 67% stolen base success rate (20 in 30 attempts) came awfully close to catching his dad’s MLB career 71%.

A 2020 season split between Houston’s Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks and AAA Round Rock Express appears to be all but a given. To add to that, a possible September roster expansion call-up would give Astro brass a look at what could be a suitable utility player otherwise making his MLB debut sometime in 2021.

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