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Prospect Retro: Wily Mo Pena

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Prospect Retro, per Reader Vote: Wily Mo Pena

Wily Mo Pena signed with the Yankees as a free agent in July of '98, after previous contracts with the Mets and Marlins were ruled invalid by the commissioner's office. The Dominican native was considered extremely toolsy but very raw, and the Yanks took a major risk by giving him a Major League contract, setting the clock ticking on his roster options.

Pena hit just .247/.303/.382 in the Gulf Coast League in '99, showing great physical tools but struggling with the strike zone. He was just 17. I noted in my '00 book that Pena "could develop into Sammy Sosa or Juan Gonzalez", but could also turn into Sherman Obando. I gave him a Grade C+ based on his tools and youth.

Promoted to the Sally League in '00, Pena was totally overmatched, hitting just .205/.268/.361, striking out 91 times in 67 games. Thinking that he would fail to develop, I gave him a Grade C- and sarcastically wrote that Pena would be claimed on waivers by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2003.

In March of '01, Pena was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Drew Henson and Michael Coleman. Assigned to Class A Dayton in the Midwest League, he hit .263/.327/.485, with 26 homers and 26 steals. He improved his plate discipline from horribly dismal to merely poor, fanning 177 times but at least boosting his production across the board. He was still just 19. I moved him up to Grade C+, and my main worry at this stage was that he would run out of options before he was ready for the Majors, forcing him into action too soon. I compared him to Preston Wilson, "talented and dangerous, but flawed."

Moved up to Double-A in '02, Pena hit .255/.330/.405 with 11 homers for Chattanooga. Although his overall production numbers were not that impressive, he made substantial improvements in his strike zone judgment, boosting his walk rate nearly 50%. He got another Grade C+ from me. His tools were undeniable, but he was out of options heading into 2003, and I was afraid he would rot on the Major League bench.

Pena got into 80 games for the Reds in '03, 165 at-bats, hitting .218/.283/.358. Not good numbers, of course. But he was just 21. Things started to click for him in '04, as he hit .259/.316/.527 with 26 homers. This year he's at .252/.305/.489.

In 698 career at-bats, slightly more than a complete season, Pena has hit .252/.305/.489 with 44 homers. He's also struck out an incredible 234 times while drawing only 43 walks. Projecting what he will do in the future is difficult. His contact problems are severe, but his power is undeniable, he's made a lot of progress, and he is still very young. Look at this list of comparables to get a sense of where he MIGHT be heading:

Comparable Players to Wily Mo Pena, No Actives Listed

Pete Incaviglia
Willie Horton
Dave Winfield
Jesse Barfield
George Foster
Charlie Spikes
Reggie Jackson

You have two Hall of Famers in Jackson and Winfield. You have sluggers like Barfield, Foster, and Horton, dangerous in their prime. The worst guy is Spikes, who had a couple of 20-homer seasons but faded quickly. Incaviglia was Incaviglia.

I think something like a Foster/Barfield outcome is quite possible, provided Pena can develop even adequate strike zone command. Check the comments section for a poll about Wily Mo.

Poll

Who is the Best Comp for Wily Mo Pena's Future?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Pete Incaviglia
    (15 votes)
  • 3%
    Willie Horton
    (3 votes)
  • 8%
    Dave Winfield
    (7 votes)
  • 29%
    Jesse Barfield
    (25 votes)
  • 25%
    George Foster
    (22 votes)
  • 2%
    Charlie Spikes
    (2 votes)
  • 13%
    Reggie Jackson
    (12 votes)
86 votes total Vote Now