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
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
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
"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
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."
|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.