By David Peng
The Angels are going into Spring Training with a projected starting rotation that includes two guys clearing a full season past Tommy John surgery, two free agents on one-year contracts looking to bounce back from down seasons, and a 22-year-old going into his sophomore season. The one name that hasn’t been bantered about much is Felix Peña — but he shouldn’t be forgotten.
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Pressed into service after another season of rotation injuries, Peña, a middling prospect for the Cubs who the Angels acquired for a PTBNL in October of 2017, came through with a solid season. In 90 innings over 17 games as a starter, Peña posted a 4.00 ERA, with opponents hitting just .242/.304/.375, and struck out over 8 batters per 9 innings.
Though he can touch 95 MPH with a 4-seam fastball, Peña generally sits at 92-93, with an average slider and change-up that the Cubs didn’t deem important enough to keep. In 2018, though, Peña added a sinking fastball. Thrown with the same release point and velocity as his 4-seamer, the sinker gave Peña a deceptive wrinkle that he didn’t have before.
Over the last four months, Peña has gone from not throwing a sinker at all to throwing it nearly 60% of the time. Adding that pitch turned him from a fringe major leaguer into a real contributor last season.
Now, even though the Angels already have five guys projected as rotation starters in front of him, no one believes those five are all they’ll need. A big league season is long, and nobody’s rotation lasts all season. Recent history tells us that the Angels are going to need at least a few more starters. Peña has earned the right to be first in line when the Angels need to reach back for a sixth starter.