|'05 Club||Tennessee Smokies|
Past and Future: Tony Pena's past was perhaps the biggest story in the minor leagues in 2004. Of course, that wasn't necessarily a good thing. Pena was a top prospect, a 19 year old phenom with an electric arm and incredible poise. There was talk that he might be the youngest player ever to suit up for the Diamondbacks.
Problem is, none of those things were written about Tony Pena.
At the time Pena was pitching under the name Adriano Rosario. Rosario is Pena's younger cousin, and Pena had used Rosario's birth certificate when he was first drafted. It was a situation that became so common in the Major Leagues, foreign players using different credentials, that few ever batted an eyelash when it was revealed that a player wasn't who they said they were. After the September 11th attacks the government started cracking down on false credentials and Pena was a player who, because of his notoriety, became the face for the problem.
An investigation was launched, and the Diamondbacks organization was cleared of any wrongdoing, though some officials, most notably the Diamondbacks head of Dominican Scouting at the time, were reprimanded. But by the time the situation was sorted out the Diamondbacks had a whole different problem. They now had a pitcher three years older than they thought, who had missed nearly a full year because of the Visa problems.
Pena came into Spring Training having changed from the biggest story in the minors to the biggest question mark in the Diamondbacks organization. But he changed all that with an incredible spring. Whispers started that Pena might win the #5 starter's spot in the big league rotation. Through Visa problems, investigations and name changes, one thing remained. Pena had an electric arm.
In his last two outings in Spring Training Pena faltered and the Diamondbacks elected to have him start the year in Double-A Tennessee. He remained one of the brightest prospects in the organization, but according to Pena, the Diamondbacks wanted him to get more experience. Missing the previous year had finally caught up with Pena in one way.
Then things seemed to fall apart.
"He was coming off a lot of innings in the Spring, and all of a sudden he just wasn't throwing well for us," Tennessee Manager Tony Perezchica says, "he was feeling some soreness in his pitching elbow, and we had to shut him down."
It was revealed that Pena was suffering from tendonitis in his pitching elbow, a condition he says he had felt in Spring Training, but hadn't really been concerned about.
"I felt a little pain during Spring Training, but I didn't think much of it," Pena told FutureBacks, "It wasn't until the first day out in Double-A Mobile where I really felt the problem. That's where they figured out the real problem."
Unfortunately his pitching didn't really improve once he came back. He lost his first seven decisions, and didn't pick up a win until June, in his 10th start of the season. Pena came on in June, posting a 2.65 ERA in five starts that month, and in July his record finally started to look like the pitcher who had almost landed a spot on the big league roster, as he went 4-1 with a 3.27 ERA. Perezchica thinks it was a good year, despite the 7-13 record.
"This offseason he's going to have to get stronger, he knows that, because it's a long season, and this is the first time he's really been through that in awhile."
And he also believes the struggles will help him in the future.
"I think starting out with those struggles really taught him that he has to continue to work, I think that maturity is something you only get through experience, good and bad."
|Tony Pena||Win-Loss||ERA||K/BB||HR Allowed|
|Double-A Tennessee Smokies
Pitches: Pena has a power fastball that sits in the low 90s, but before the year off was riding in the mid 90s, and could return to that level again after being back in the system, and being healthy, for a full season. He throws a curve ball and a change up that both need work, but when they are on Pena keeps hitters off balance. The biggest problem with the offspeed stuff has been control, allowing hitters to sit on the fastball, and that leads to the high home run totals (17 in just under 150 innings). If he can find the zone consistently with the change it will go a long way to keeping lefties, who hit .319 off him this year, from hurting him consistently.
ETA: Pena will need at least one more year, but it might not be a full season. Some in the organization feel he is better suited for the bullpen, though he maintains his velocity deep into games. With '04 essentially being written off (he made only seven starts because of the Visa problems) he came into 2005 essentially as only a third year player. We will find out a lot about Pena as soon as he comes back from the offseason. If he comes back stronger then questions about his work ethic will start to subside, but he'll be 24 be the start of the spring, and a 24 year old who has never pitched above the Double-A level. If he comes back without adding strength and with the same control problems he showcased in 2004 the Diamondbacks might be inclined to remove him from the immediate future plans.