On Sunday afternoon, in the tenth inning of a rough weekend series for the Astros against the Toronto Blue Jays, the team was rescued by their msot dynamic hitter this season. Alex Bregman has a slightly better on-base percentage and Michael Brantley, as usual, has the better average, but with a slugging percentage of .511 and a remarkably consistent approach at the plate for a rookie, it was Jeremy Peña who blasted a two-run homer to give the Astros an 8-7 win, their only victory in the home series against Toronto.
In this postgame TV interview, after being doused in ice water by his teammates, he was clearly excited for the moment, but also calm. "I'm just glad we won," he said.
For the bulk of their early portion of the season, this rookie has been the best and most consistent hitter on the team. There will be ups and downs as there are with all rookies, but Peña doesn't seem to be playing over his head. Here are four things to consider.
He isn't Carlos Correa in the field, but he's close.
Peña makes some spectacular plays at short, but he also managed the routine plays with ease. His skills make him look effortless in the field. His range is greater than I think most expected and while he doesn't have Correa's cannon for an arm, his accuracy is well above average, particularly in his first year. Even if and when he does struggle (he was fighting off a 2-20 slump before the walkoff Sunday, his defense will continue to make him a valuable part of the lineup.
Peña has a great eye at the plate for a rookie.
In 53 at bats, he has 11 strikeouts but also five walks. He is a free swinger, often enamored with breaking pitches outside the zone, but he is smart and tremendously confident as a batter. Case in point Sunday afternoon, when he faced Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano, a hard-throwing reliever who had converted 31 straight saves. It was impressive enough that Peña was able to do what he did against a veteran reliever, but to do it coming on the heels of the first slump of his career in an extra innings game showed something about his mettle as a young player.
The rookie's demeanor is more like a veteran.
Expect more ice showers for this rookie as his career progresses.
Photo by Jack Gorman
When Peña was rounding the bases Sunday afternoon, he pounded his chest and stomped on home plate. That was about as demonstrative as you get from the rookie, who rarely displays much in the way of intensity on the field. He tends to be very balanced in his approach, another character trait that will give him more opportunities for days like Sunday. It is precisely that even keel that allows him to have such a consistent approach in the batter's box and on the diamond.
It is still VERY early.
Jeremy Peña is only 13 games into his major league career. He has a very, very long way to go to get where he and the franchise want him to go. But, he clearly has the tools and the attitude to be great. But, it is critical for fans to exercise patience when it comes to his development. Bregman was once considered a bust early in his career and it took Kyle Tucker until last season to prove he belongs in a big league outfield. Pena's off to a great start, but the rookie shortstop will have his struggles, probably plenty this season, and we'll all need to hang in there. He may, some day, make us all forget about Correa. For now, like all of us, he needs to enjoy the ride.