With the Houston Astros joining the American League in 2013, their first order of business was to find someone who could be their designated hitter. Does Carlos Pena have what it takes to get the job done this season?
Pena occasionally suited up as the designated hitter for the Tampa Bay Rays last season, but mostly spent time at first base. However, the Astros signed him to a one-year, $2.9 million deal to be their power hitter. I am sure we will see Pena line up at first base for Houston several times this season, but that is not where the team wants his concentration to be.
The 34-year-old is known as a hitter who puts up power numbers, does not hit for average and gets on-base way more than he should. Last season, Pena batted .197 with 19 home runs, 61 RBI, 17 doubles and a .330 on-base percentage thanks to 87 walks in 497 at-bats. This was certainly a down year for the 12-year veteran who has averaged roughly 32 home runs and 91 RBI over the past six seasons. The Astros are clearly banking on Pena to reach his average power numbers and beyond as they attempt to make a name for themselves in the competitive American League West division.
Pena’s home run numbers could very well increase this season considering he will be playing at Minute Maid Park frequently where the dimensions down the right-field line are 326 feet, similar to what he is used to at Tropicana Field. Since Pena has historically been a pull-hitter, this is good news for Houston. He will also see his doubles increase because of the ridiculously deep center field that measures 435 feet. The unique dimensions could also help with his horrific career .234 batting average.
Over the past three seasons, Pena has batted .214 with three RBI, three doubles, seven walks and nine strikeouts in 28 at-bats at Minute Maid Park. That batting average ranks 14th for him over that span in which he has stepped up to the plate at least once in every MLB ballpark.
I believe the Dominican Republic native definitely has what it takes to be successful this year, as long as the pressure to deliver on a young Astros team does not get to him. Pena must play his game and not try to step out of his comfort zone. Houston knows why they got him so they must let him swing for the fences and take the walks when given.