The Royals announced that they have signed a minor league free agent catcher, Francisco Pena. Pena is the son of former Royals’ manager Tony Pena, and has spent his entire professional career in the Mets organization.
Pena was signed as an international free agent in 2006, and came with some fanfare. Some scouts thought Pena was one of the best Dominican catching prospects ever, and though he’s always had a larger body, he was praised for being agile behind the plate and possessing a strong arm. Also of note, Pena was the catcher for the infamous Danny Almonte in the 2001 Little League World Series. Unfortunately for Pena, his fame doesn’t go much beyond that.
To this point in his career, the 24 year-old Pena has a stat line of .236/.286/.348 in nearly 2300 plate appearances. He doesn’t seem to have much patience at the plate, posting a walk rate of just 6%. Pena’s career ISO of only .112 also doesn’t instill much confidence, so it seems like his future will be as nothing more than a backup, at best. Some may point to his breakout 2013 campaign, in which he put up a .729 OPS, however most of that work was done at AAA Las Vegas, which is home to one of the most hitter friendly ballparks in the minors.
Defensively, Pena still seems to have a good arm, holding a caught stealing percentage of 31% in 2013 and 45% in 2012. He’s also allowed just 7 passed balls in the last 2 seasons, spanning 150 games.
The biggest thing that Pena brings to the Royals is his contract status. Currently, the three catchers on the Royals’ roster are Salvador Perez, George Kottaras, and Brett Hayes. Kottaras and Hayes are both out of options, meaning one of them – likely Hayes – will need to be waived or designated for assignment prior to the start of the regular season, leaving the team with just 2 catchers on the roster. By adding Pena, the Royals will simply need to waive either Kottaras or Hayes now, and they can option Pena to Omaha after spring training.
This is a move that was going to be made eventually (if not with Pena, with another minor league free agent), and while Dayton Moore’s first signing of the offseason isn’t exactly a showstopper, it was necessary in order to maintain depth at the catching position for 2014.