KC Royals: Why this might be Tony Pena Jr.’s moment

(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) /

Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman’s continuing series about potential KC Royals managerial candidates. Today we take a look at Tony Peña Jr.

Don’t expect to hear much from the Royals about their search for a new manager. This team historically conducts such business behind the scenes. Making media splashes may be a priority elsewhere, but not at One Royal Way.

Read nothing, then, into the relative silence now enveloping the matter. General Manager J.J. Picollo has revealed only that current coaches Pedro Grifol and Vance Wilson will be considered, and confirming their candidacies wasn’t surprising—both interviewed for the club’s last managing vacancy. They remain the only publicly-known candidates from within the organization.

That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that others won’t be considered, including minor league manager Tony Peña Jr., a Royal in some capacity for much of his baseball life. Could he be on Picollo’s list? The GM probably won’t tell, but Peña’s long association with the organization provides clues that he might be.

Tony Peña Jr.’s history with the KC Royals suggests he could be a candidate.

Peña’s introduction to the Royals was indirect—he was playing in Atlanta’s minor league system when his father, Tony Peña Sr., became Kansas City’s manager after the Royals dismissed Tony Muser during the 2002 season.

The manager’s son at some point caught the Royals’ eye, so much so that they picked him up via a spring training trade five years later and made him their regular shortstop for 2007. Peña Sr. was gone by then; he resigned after Kansas City’s catastrophic 8-25 start two seasons before.

Peña Jr. became a free agent after hitting .228 in three Kansas City seasons and spent 2010-2013 toiling in the minors for the Giants, Red Sox, and White Sox. He then played four seasons in Mexico but never returned to the majors.

He found himself back on Kansas City’s radar in 2018 when the club hired him to manage its Arizona rookie ball affiliate, which went 22-30 in his first year and 33-23 in 2019. The Royals then gave him a spot on Ned Yost’s major league staff for the last month of the 2019 campaign.

Peña’s work in Arizona prompted the club to name him manager at Burlington for 2020, but the pandemic caused cancellation of that season and the promotion. He jumped to the Royals in 2021 to serve on Matheny’s staff.

This year, Peña returned to the minors and managed Low-A Columbia to a 34-31 record, second place in the Carolina League South, and the only winning mark in the KC system. He skippered 10 of MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Kansas City prospects: outfielder Gavin Cross (No. 1), pitcher Ben Kudrna (No. 2), infielder Cayden Wallace (No. 3), pitcher Frank Mozzicato (No. 6), catcher Carter Jensen (No. 13), pitchers Ben Hernandez (No. 17) and Mason Barnett (No. 22), infielder Daniel Vazquez (No. 27), pitcher Noah Cameron (No. 28), and infielder Lizandro Rodriguez (No. 30).

But is Peña ready for a big league manager’s job?

Perhaps. It’s obvious the Royals’ heavy investment in him is paying dividends. His three years managing have produced two winners. The Royals clearly like, trust, and have plans for him. He knows and has managed many Royals and several of the organization’s best prospects, which could serve him well as the club continues to develop. So, this might be his moment.

But if Picollo is looking for more experience, especially big league experience, Peña will probably have to wait.

dark. Next. 11 big KC contract issues

Will the Royals give Tony Peña Jr. a shot at their managing job? Stay tuned.