During the offseason, I happened to be looking over the Major League Baseball transaction log when I came across a rather nondescript signing.
It simply said, “The Arizona Diamondbacks sign outfielder Wily Mo Pena to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training.”
Pena was once identified as a no-miss prospect with an unlimited ceiling. He was to be a superstar in the game. After signing with the New York Mets, Pena was traded to the New York Yankees, where he started his professional career. A year later, he was traded to Cincinnati and made his Major League debut on September 10, 2002, becoming the youngest member of the National League.
Pena has always been known as a power hitter. Teammates have commented about his power as he launches tape-measure home runs during batting practice and games.
So when the Diamondbacks signed Pena to provide them with outfield depth at Triple-A Reno, I was very excited to finally be able to see for myself the power that Pena possesses.
During workouts at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, there was no doubt which player was Pena even before you could see his uniform number. Pena stands 6’3” and weighs 270 pounds. From my vantage point, those numbers may be conservative.
As Pena stepped into the right batter’s box, he waved the bat slightly and waited for the pitch. His swing looked fluid and a bit nonchalant, but there was no mistaking the sound the bat made when it connected with the ball. It sounded like a gunshot and the ball jumped off his bat.
Pena took a total of 10 swings in his turn in the batters box. Of those 10 swings, nine of them were home runs. It was not just the fans in attendance who were amazed. Players and coaches also stopped their drills to turn and watch Pena hit.
I remember when the Diamondbacks first began play and Mark McGwire came to then Bank One Ballpark. During batting practice, he hit a ball that went out one of the panels adjacent to the JumboTron in center field. It was the hardest ball I had ever seen hit.
Watching Pena swing at Salt River Fields, he made that hit by McGwire look like a lazy fly ball.
The chances of Pena making the Diamondbacks out of Spring Training seem slim, but if he does happen to make the roster, I, for one, plan on writing to the Commissioner’s office pleading with him to let Wily Mo Pena compete in the Home Run Derby during All-Star week.
I haven’t seen that kind of power since I toured the nuclear power plant, and Pena isn’t radioactive.