Monday, June 18, 2007

The Hangover: Carlos Pena Is A Stabilizing Force

Devil Rays 7, Rockies 4.
Remember back in the off-season when the only position we were worried about was who would fill the enormous shoes of Travis Lee? Elijah Dukes took his first base mitt to the Arizona Fall League. Jonny Gomes borrowed a glove for about 3 hours early in Spring Training. Hee Seop Choi and Carlos Pena were signed as non-roster invitees, and given little chance of even making the ball club. And of course Ty Wigginton and Greg Norton were expected to receive the majority of the playing time. Now? First base may be one of only two positions on the field for which we know who will be playing there for the next 2 seasons.

In 2006, 29 first basemen recorded at least 300 plate appearances. Travis Lee ranked last with a .676 OPS. By comparison, Pena has the highest OPS among all major league first basemen (1.012) and is 3rd among all AL hitters. With his 16th home run on Sunday, Pena is now 4th in the AL. He also 42 RBI (15th in AL) despite only starting 46 of the Rays 67 games. He is also showing no sign of slowing down as none of his numbers have been the result of "hot streaks" within the season. In fact, Pena has been amazingly consistent. In May he hit .356 with 6 home runs. So far in June he is hitting .362 with 6 home runs.

We can be fairly certain that Carl Crawford will still be manning left field in 2008 and 2009, and with 2 more seasons of arbitration eligibility, Pena will be the Rays first baseman. What other position can you say that about? Right field is close with Delmon Young, but every other position is filled with question marks for 2008 and beyond. We know some of the names (Akinori Iwamura, BJ Upton), but we have no idea where these players will call home in the everyday lineup. Pena, on the other hand, has emerged as a stabilizing force in the most unlikely of positions...first base.


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