Once upon a time, Carlos Pen was one the top prospects in baseball. However, for the Oakland A’s, he was a flop.
Prior to the 2002 season, the Oakland A’s made an intriguing trade with the Texas Rangers. On January 14, they sent Jason Hart, Ryan Ludwick, Gerald Laird, and Mario Ramos to the Rangers in exchange for Carlos Pena and Mike Venafro. For the A’s, Pena was the prize, a slugging first baseman that was expected to be a cornerstone for the franchise.
At the time, Pena was considered to be the fifth best prospect in all of baseball. He had annihilated pitching in AAA the year before, posting a .288/.408/.550 batting line while hitting 38 doubles and 23 homers. Pena even stole 11 bases, a figure that allowed the A’s to dream of a possible all around offensive threat manning first for the foreseeable future.
That future lasted for all of 40 uninspiring games. Pena disappointed in his 141 plate appearances, with a .218/.305/.419 batting line. He did hit seven homers, showing that the power he displayed in the minors was there, but the A’s had seen enough. Pena was sent to the minors on May 19, and on July 5, was part of a three team deal that shipped him to Detroit.
To be fair to the A’s, it took some time before Pena found himself at the major league level. He did get two seasons as a starter for the Tigers, but failed to impress. After being let go prior to the 2006 season by Detroit, he spent time in the Yankees and Red Sox organizations. In that 2006 season, he had just 37 plate appearances in the majors, all of which came with Boston.
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Then came one of the best moves in Rays history, as they signed Pena to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. Pena actually did not impress, forcing the Rays into a decision. On March 30, they actually had reassigned Pena to their minor league camp, with the idea that Greg Norton would play first. As it turned out, Norton injured his knee later that day and required surgery. Pena was given a second chance.
He would run with that opportunity and become a solid major leaguer. Even if he did not live up to his former top prospect billing, Pena produced a solid .238/.368/.515 batting line with 144 homers and 96 doubles from 2007 through 2010. He finished ninth in the MVP vote twice, led the AL with 39 homers in 2009, won two Gold Glove awards, and was an All Star.
For the A’s, it was a case of what may have been. The players acquired in that deal were decent at best, with Ted Lilly‘s year and a half of league average pitching being the best of the group. Considering the A’s were contending for the postseason, and were aiming high, they did not have time to be patient with Pena.
It is easy to forget Carlos Pena’s time with the Oakland A’s. As it is, his is a cautionary tale of placing such a high premium on top prospects since sometimes, they don’t develop as expected.