Ariel Pena: Late-Inning Brewers’ Flamethrower?

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Ariel Pena can bring the heat. Often viewed as the forgotten man of the Zack Greinke trade, Pena has a blazing fastball that sets him apart among minor league pitchers. Earlier in the year he was taken off of the Brewers 40-man roster and a late-season elbow injury may have been a big reason why he was not scooped up by another team in the rule-five draft. This season Pena will show why the Brewers were lucky to hang on to him.

The biggest part of Pena’s game is the strikeout. Throughout his eight minor league seasons, Pena has averaged 8.9 strikeout per nine innings. Last season, his first full-season  in AAA, he struck out 140 batters in 128.1 innings (a rate of almost 10 per nine innings). With these type of numbers, the 25-year-old would appear to be on the fast track to the big leagues.

But the major issue for Pena has been his spotty command. Though he missed plenty of bats last season, he also missed the strike-zone with regularity. He walked 75 hitters, hit five more and threw 12 wild pitches. This wildness led to a strikeout to walk rate of just 1.87.

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These poor command numbers were nothing new either, he has had a hard time finding the plate through much of his career. Overall in 175 appearances he has walked 455 batters and averaged 4.5 walks per nine innings. These types of numbers simply won’t cut it in the major leagues and have kept him toiling in the minors.

However, there is hope for Pena. Mostly used as a starter throughout his career, there has been talk about moving him into a bullpen role. In this type of role he could use his power pitches to his advantage even more.

Last season, Jeremy Jeffress, a pitcher who had even worst struggles with his command throughout his minor league career, was finally able to tap into his full potential and become the intimidating pitcher that the Brewers always believed he could be. With continued work on his command, Pena can surely earn a promotion and become a trusted arm that could be an even better pitcher than Jeffress has become.

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