Astros: When will Jeremy Pena make his MLB debut?

Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports /

The Houston Astros dropped 4-2 to the Miami Marlins on Sunday, as the team enters its final week of spring training. Infielding prospect Jeremy Pena brought in the only runs of the game with a two-run shot in the top of the 5th inning that brought in Steven Souza Jr.

As one of the few prospects waiting on an assignment, we can expect Pena to start 2021 in the minor leagues. While not hitting the 40-man roster just yet, the right-hander only has three hits this spring that includes two long balls. Although not having the most impactful spring through 18 at bats, Pena is projected to make the big leagues in 2021 by MLB Pipeline.

When can we expect Pena with the Astros full-time?

While the franchise has an All-Star studded infield, Carlos Correa has still not been given an extension just yet. As his self-imposed deadline is April 1, the shortstop doesn’t want to sign during the season and would enter free agency after the ’21 season. This could be a bad sign, as the shortstop class is the best it has been in years.

If for some reason the Astros let Correa walk, this leaves another gapping whole in the roster for someone like Freudis Nova or Pena to fill. Although Nova is currently on the 40-man roster, Pena is most likely the go-to man for the future, but he has never played at the AA or AAA level. This issue is greatly affected by the cancellation of the minor league season in 2020, which is another reason the Astros should re-sign Correa. If the prospect talent isn’t ready, why rush it and lose a franchise player like Correa in the process?

With this in mind, there isn’t much room for Pena just yet. While his ETA is 2021, the team doesn’t have the room for him to be moved to the 40-man roster to make his big league debut, if they don’t trade or DFA a current roster spot holder.

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The team has moved faster with their lower level prospects before, as seen with the bullpen arms in 2020, but it all comes down to Correa’s ’21 performance. Although not hitting to the best numbers last season, the right-hander found his swing in the postseason, and if he is fully healthy and is back to his All-Star numbers, then he deserves a big check.

Here comes the “what if?” If Correa is underperforming and the team didn’t extend him before April 1, then they could address his loss with Nova and Pena in 2022. This is all hypothetical, but at the moment, it is a hard situation to add Pena to the 40-man roster, while also not having the most experience.

With his power coming around, Pena has been elite in the field. While standing out in the Dominican Winter League, the right-hander split his offseason from third base to second base. If he were to add an outfielding glove or first baseman’s mitt, then he would be a shoe-in for a utility job or an every-other day starter depending on need to start. As we see how 2021 shakes out, Pena’s debut makes the most sense for 2022 unless he is dominating AA and AAA pitching this season.

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The Astros are back on the field in West Palm Beach on Monday against the New York Mets at 12:05 p.m. This game will be televised on AT&T SportsNet, while also being on the radio at 790 am in Houston. On a high note, Andre Scrubb’s test results didn’t show structural damage but did show inflammation; he will not throw for three to four days per Dusty Baker.