Eric Hinske finally escaped Pittsburgh yesterday and made it to the Bronx in time for the Yanks’ evening affair against the Mariners. When Hinkse donned number 14 and was activated, the Yankees optioned Ramiro Peña to Scranton for his AAA debut. This is, though, a demotion with a purpose.
Peña, a little guy at 5’11” and 165 lbs., is not your typical middle infielder and doesn’t yet profile to be one. He’s a scrawny glove man with no power and little on-base ability. In 2008, playing his age 22 season, he experienced a second stint at AA. During an injury-free season after making it through just 52 games in 2007, he OPS’d .687, a good .050 points higher than his Minor League average. A hitter he is not.
Peña’s value lies on the other side of the ball. Not really a highly-regarded Yankee prospect, he is a glove man who can play second, third and short at a high level. During his three-month stint on the Yankee bench, he displayed his aptitude in the field, and the Yankees walked away impressed.
He may have hit .267/.308/.349 with 17 strike outs in 92 plate appearances, but the Yankees don’t mind. They want him for his glove. To that end, they have sent him down to AAA to become a super-utility player. “They told me I have a chance to be here for a long time,” Peña said to MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo on Wednesday.
What then do the Yankees expect from Peña, who will play some center for Scranton? In an ideal world, the Yankees are looking for their own version of a Felipe Lopez. They want a guy who can come off the bench, handle the bat, run a bit and, more importantly, play anywhere on the field.
It sounds like a great idea, but can it work? Lopez made his Major League debut at 21 and has played for five different teams. He owns a career OPS+ of 90. For what he is, he’s not terrible. Yet, he’s not a comp for Peña. In similar Minor League experience, Lopez turned in an OPS of .771. He’s a vastly superior offensive player than Peña is and a seemingly better base runner also.
I don’t mean to knock Peña. He certainly filled in admirably after both A-Rod and Cody Ransom went down. He can bunt; he can run; he can field. As Joe Girardi said, with more than a little hyperbole behind it, “He did more than what we expected. He was great.”
Yet, without the final component — that ability to hit just a little bit more, to get on base a little more frequently — the Yankees might be chasing something that doesn’t exist. Ramiro Peña is a glove man backup infielder. Maybe they should just keep him that way.