Carlos Pena Is Good For A Bad Team
Seeing Carlos Pena in a Houston Astros uniform reminds me of a conversation with a scout late last season. It was in reference to the Seattle Mariners and their young hitters. The scout, a veteran of 20-plus years, commented players like Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak struggled in part because they were forced to hit in key batting order positions before developing the skills to do so.
For example, Dustin Ackley has been discussed as a prototypical two-hole hitter since being drafted second overall. However, this projection is based on Ackley in his prime, not Ackley from day one. In a perfect world, the second baseman would have batted seventh with the opportunity to grow into the top-of-the-order threat he’s expected to become.
Same can be said for Montero and Smoak who were regarded as middle-of-the-order bats capable of hitting 30-plus home runs annually. Once again, these projections were for prime years, not rookie expectations. Each wound up spending time in the 4/5 holes and underperformed at a time when hitting further down the batting order was more appropriate given their present abilities.
For the scout, signing Pena to a one year deal would have been best for the development of the three young players.
I’m sure a number of readers are thinking batting position should not matter to a hitter, but this isn’t taking the human element into consideration. As a college player, I felt most comfortable in the seven-hole. Why? I wasn’t fast, but reached base in nearly half of my college plate appearances due in part to a steady diet of walks and hit by pitches.
On occasion, a coach would try me in the three, four, or five hole, but I always felt out of my element. Having hit just 10 home runs in my college career, being thrust into the role of a power hitter left me trying to do too much and it backfired more often than not.
Of course prospects and big leaguers are better equipped to deal with adversity. But in life, we all find comfort zones. It’s a part of being human. Superstition and routine would play a lesser role in today’s game if players didn’t care about being comfortable at the plate, or in the field.
For rebuilding teams, a lack of established talent often forces an organization to make difficult lineup construction decisions. This is when a player like Carlos Pena becomes valuable. Of course the first baseman isn’t as bad as his .197 batting average would indicate given his on base skills, but nobody will mistake him as anything more than a bit part on the downside of a career. However, a one year stopgap capable of assuming any spot in the batting order makes it possible for the future to be eased into the lineup.
Same goes for Justin Maxwell.
At present, the Astros are full of post hype sleepers receiving everyday at bats for the first time. Fernando Martinez, Matt Dominguez, Brett Wallace, Jason Castro and Chris Carter have top-100 rankings from Baseball America, but little else in terms of a baseball resume.
For the Astros, batting Pena and Maxwell in the three/four holes would allow Chris Carter to bat fifth — A good fit given his 2012 production. The remaining four slide into the six-through-nine spots and are allowed to develop as regulars without the pressure associated with key spots in the batting order.
Add to this an organization determined to bat Jose Altuve second and the Astros appear willing to leverage replaceable parts to prop up the lineup while searching for long term solutions.
From a scouting perspective, this is the ideal way to develop offensive talent from within. An organization may turn the mental aspect of lineup construction on its head eventually, but it hasn’t happened yet. Until this occurs, players like Carlos Pena will continue to find Major League work for their flexibility as much as production.
24 Jan 2014 / Mike Newman /
Categories: MLB Analysis
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