Fire up the DeLorean, head back to 2002, and show a baseball fan the following snippet of play-by-play:
Ryan Vogelsong checks Sean Burroughs, the runner at first. He sets. And here’s the pitch to Wily Mo Pena ...
The three most likely responses from the 2002 fan:
- Uh, okay. So what?
- So those highly touted prospects stuck around for a decade like everyone expected them to. Great.
- Do you have anything more interesting? Kentucky Derby winners? Stock tips? This is the lamest visit from the future I’ve ever had.
But the Year of the Once-Prospect You Thought Retired Years Ago continues with the Arizona Diamondbacks calling up Wily Mo Pena. And, technically, that play-by-play can’t happen just yet, as Sean Burroughs was outrighted to Triple-A to make room for Pena, but it’s still amazing to have all of these names floating around Major League Baseball in 2011. Maybe Pena will get to take a few rips against John Van Benschoten to complete the illusion.
The last time Pena was in the majors, he was 26 years old, and he floundered for the Nationals, hitting .205/.243/.267 with only two home runs in 195 at-bats. Wily Mo Pena not hitting for power is like Omar Vizquel fielding so poorly that he has to play first base.
In 2010, the 28-year-old Pena hit .310/.337/.516 in 155 at-bats for Bridgeport. Looks good on the surface, but the Bridgeport Bluefish are in the independent Atlantic League. On Pena’s team, Dan Serafini, who owns a 6.04 ERA in his major league career, posted a 3.42 ERA. The level of competition wasn’t exactly robust, and Pena could manage only a .337 OBP.
So it was a little weird, then, that the Padres even bothered to sign Pena during the 2010 season, and it was even weirder that he did well, hitting better in Triple-A last year than he did in the Atlantic League. Sure, the Pacific Coast League is a hitter’s league, but Pena managed a reasonable walk rate, and his power returned to previous levels.
But if that modest success can be called weird, what’s this?
Wily Mo Pena has been the Jose Bautista of the PCL. And, yes, Reno is a hitter’s park in a hitter’s league, but those stats are gaudy however you dice them. He’s hitting for huge power, and while no one’s going to confuse him for Dustin Ackley, he’s still managing a better K/BB ratio than ever before in his pro career.
The Diamondbacks are heading on the road for an interleague swing, and they’ll need a DH. That happens to be Pena’s best position, so he’ll get some at-bats. Maybe more than a few. And if he hits he’ll stick, completing a comeback that would have sounded ridiculous just one year ago.
Nine years ago? It made perfect sense. Anything was possible for a guy with Pena’s tools. The route he took to get to a 25-man roster in 2011 was just a little different than expected, that’s all.