Pena thankful for fresh start with Rays
First baseman confident in ability, chance to win big-league job
ST. PETERSBURG -- Who's on first?
That's a legitimate question in the Devil Rays' camp and not a reference to the famed Abbott and Costello comedy routine.
Carlos Pena is one of the more interesting hopefuls for the job this spring and he is "extremely grateful" the Rays have extended him an opportunity.
"I know what I can do," Pena said. "I've had some success in the Major Leagues. I'm 28 years old. And, you know, if the rule is true that you enter your prime from 28 until you're 34, the best years are yet to come. This is the perfect stage; the perfect scenario for that to take place."
Pena, who signed a Minor League deal in January, hits left-handed and is a former first-round pick of the Rangers (10th overall in 1998). In 507 Major League games with the Rangers, Athletics, Tigers and Red Sox, he has totaled 86 home runs and 243 RBIs. From 2002-05, as an everyday first baseman, he hit at least 18 home runs a season, including a career-high 27 in 2004 for the Tigers. He also set a career best that year with 82 RBIs.
Pena spent the bulk of last season at Triple-A Columbus in the Yankees organization and batted .260 with 19 home runs and 66 RBIs. He was released by the Yankees on Aug. 15 and signed with the Red Sox two days later. After hitting four home runs in 11 games at Triple-A Pawtucket, he was called up to Boston and appeared in 18 games over the season's final month, batting .273 with a home run and three RBIs.
Rays manager Joe Maddon cited Pena's high strikeout totals, along with the fact most of his home runs have been pulled, for inspiring a conversation with Pena.
"I talked to Carlos about [going the other way]," Maddon said. "So, [during] a lot of his [batting practice], you'll see him going to left-center. He's showing power to left-center, which I know he has. I wanted to get that into his head early, and I think that will help him cut down on strikeouts."
Pena buys into Maddon's thinking.
"I've noticed that when I've had the most success, I was hitting line drives," Pena said. "That's my goal: having a solid approach, with the goal of just hitting line drives. My power numbers increase [when I try to hit line drives], as opposed to trying to hit home runs, it's just the opposite. So it's almost like it works backwards. I just need to focus on hitting line drives. If I do that and make solid contact, then the home runs will come by themselves. They just happen."
Maddon told Pena he wants him to bear down on becoming a complete player.
"Because I think he's been more focused on defense and pure power," Maddon said. "I think he can hit for a better average, I think he can drive in more runs, [and] I think he can score more runs. He's a very bright young man. I think if you present him with the thought of, 'Let's get out there and become a complete player,' I think he has an ability to do that. I really do. As a first baseman."
Pena has had some disappointments in the past, like not sticking with the Tigers out of Spring Training last year. But he speaks philosophically about his experiences.
"I've gone through some ups and downs," Pena said. "Getting the right circumstances and the right situation is important, and maybe I haven't been in the right situation, the right place to blossom. I'm happy that I've been able to have some success in the past, but also realize I could be a lot better if I keep on working.
"I've learned that nothing is written in stone and you can't take anything for granted. I never have, but that idea has been reinforced. That just tells me that's the right mentality to have become nothing is predictable."
Pena believes he is in a good situation to succeed with the Rays.
"Sometimes, we focus so much on trying to please the people who make decisions, when in reality, you can't do that," Pena said. "All you can be is yourself, and realize that being yourself is good enough, and I really, truly believe that. And the people who make the decisions, they'll want to put their best team out there. And I have faith that I'm going to be on that team. In this situation, I will be on that team."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.