Wily Mo Pena: Can't-Miss Prospects Sometimes Do

Tom DubberkeCorrespondent IJuly 20, 2010

SAN DIEGO - JUNE 22:  Wily Mo Pena #22  of the Boston Red Sox swings at the pitch during the game against the San Diego Padres on June 22, 2007 at Petco Park in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Remember Wily Mo Pena? 

The Padres just signed him to a minor league contract and assigned him to their AAA team in Portland.

Pena had been playing in the Independent A Atlantic League for the Bridgeport Blue Fish.  He was hitting .310 with a .851 OPS, which is solid but hardly spectacular for this level.

One suspects Pena got signed because he was once one of the top prospects in MLB, rather than for how well he was playing in the Atlantic League. 

Pena was hardly the best hitter on the Blue Fish.

Steve Moss, who’s two years younger than Pena (Moss is 26, Pena 28) is leading the Atlantic League with a .351 batting average and has a .996 OPS. 

In fairness to MLB, Moss never performed particularly well when he played for a major league organization.

To get back to the subject at hand, Pena looked like a can’t-miss future star when at age 22 he hit 26 home runs for the Reds in only 336 at bats during the 2004 season. 

Pena continued to play pretty well through the 2007 season; however, he didn’t improve a lick over his 2004 performance.

Pena played horribly for the going-nowhere Nationals in 2008 and didn’t hit much at AAA Buffalo, the Mets’ top farm club, in 2009. People got tired of waiting for him to develop and at 27 he was no longer a prospect. 

As a result, he found himself hanging on by thread to his professional life, which is pretty much what playing in the Atlantic League amounts to.

Pena’s real problem was that he just wasn’t selective enough as a hitter to ever get any better than he was when he first hit the National League.  In 2004, he walked only 22 times and struck out 108 times; and he never really improved on those numbers.

When you have a guy who won’t force pitchers to throw him strikes, at some point the pitchers will simply stop throwing him strikes.