Felix Peña is not a prospect. That is a fact. Yet the LA Angels are very likely going to rely on him for next season. That is a reality.
That Peña is not a prospect for the LA Angels is simply true. Signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Chicago Cubs in 2008, this is Peña’s tenth year as a professional baseball player. At no point during his nine seasons with the Cubs organization was he ever mentioned among their top prospects, if he was mentioned at all. Moved to the bullpen in 2016, he had enough success that the Cubs gave him a look, but by the end of 2017, they thought little enough of him that Angels GM Billy Eppler was able to acquire Peña for mere cash considerations to supplement the bullpen.
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The Angels may have dumb-lucked themselves into something with that acquisition. With the starting rotation once again decimated by injuries, Peña was able to step into the Angel rotation in mid-June. Despite a few rough starts — including a 1-out, 7-earned-run performance against Seattle on July 29 — Peña has managed a 3.53 ERA in his 15 starts, holding opponents to a respectable .240/.307/.365 slash line.
He’s gotten better as the season has gone on. In his last six starts (between August 15 through September 12), Peña’s era is a snappy 2.37, and he’s pitched through six innings in all six starts. Among those six games were a 12-strikeout performance against Arizona and two starts against Houston in which he totaled 13 innings and just 3 earned runs.
Though he can touch 95 MPH with a 4-seam fastball, Peña generally sits at 92-93, with a slider and change-up that graded out to merely average. The big difference between now and previous seasons is that Peña has added a pitch to his repertoire, a sinking fastball. Thrown with the same release point and velocity as his 4-seamer, the sinker gives Peña a deceptive wrinkle that he didn’t have before. Over the last four months, Peña has gone from not throwing the sinker at all to throwing it nearly 60% of the time.
The results have been extremely positive. The extra deception has allowed Peña to mix his slider and change more effectively and keeping batters off-balance. While none of his peripherals will blow people’s minds, neither is he getting lucky. He’s throwing strikes, keeping the ball in the park, and piling up innings and quality starts. He doesn’t have the raw stuff to blast his way out of trouble with men on base, but he’s shown the composure of a decade’s worth of experience, not getting flustered and beating himself when things don’t go his way.
After ten years as a pro, Peña is finally getting his shot at being a big league starter. A rare ray of light in an otherwise dismal season for so many Angel pitchers, it’s time to give Felix Peña the ball and step back.