What do Carlos Correa, Jeremy Peña and I have in common? We all share the same birthday on Sept. 22, and we have all worn the Houston Astros uniform. Of course, the 2012 Timbergrove Little League Astros don’t attest to the actual organization, but in an ever-changing game, the future of Houston sits on the shoulders of one man’s decision.
The Astros have assets to contend, even if Correa signs elsewhere, and if he does, the boat that Peña would board comes with the most treacherous waters of his professional journey. With only 30 games at the Triple-A level under his belt, Peña is still speculated as the successor to the most accomplished shortstop in franchise history.
I spoke with the Astros prospect Monday, as his offseason isn’t what he dreamed. But with the help of current major leaguers, Peña is preparing for an unknown season.
At 24-years-old, Peña is a member of the Astros 40-man roster as of November, an accomplishment that a large sum of prospects don’t attain. Although reaching the feat, Peña remains locked out by Major League Baseball with zero days of major-league service time to his name.
In what could be his first season of Major League Baseball, Peña watches from home as his minor-league teammates work for a season that he cannot play in at the moment. But, the lockout isn’t keeping Peña from progressing on, as the shortstop had made strides at home in Rhode Island and in the Dominican Winter League.
Major League Baseball’s lockout hasn’t kept Astros prospect Jeremy Peña from pursuing the childhood dream.
With his first Triple-A season behind him, Peña entered the offseason with a clearer idea of what he wanted to improve on. While not playing an entire season, he looked at winter league baseball and training on his own.
"“I felt like years before I was just working out to work out, I was hitting to hit and I was catching ground balls to catch ground balls,” Peña said. “But now, I am trying to work on some weaknesses, try to build my strengths and prepare myself and see.”"
Peña returned to LIDOM this winter, following a stay on the Astros taxi squad for the postseason. The plan was to return to the Dominican, but a wrist injury that limited him to 37 minor-league games in 2021 led to a full season for the Estrellas Orientales.
"“I was always planning on going back,” Peña said. “I still have a lot of my family down in the Dominican (Republic), so whenever I get the chance to plan in front of them, I try to seek the opportunity. But playing the full season did in fact come from me missing a lot of games this past year due to the injury on my left wrist.”"
Following a rookie of the year and Gold Glove season in 2020, Peña reciprocated his defensive prowess, securing back-to-back Gold Gloves for the shortstop position in LIDOM. Although around a different staff, Peña iterated the “great” coaches he’s had within the Astros organization to the Dominican Republic.
"“I feel like I’ve always had great coaches when I could just go up to pick their brains,” Peña said regarding factors to his defensive accomplishments. “And I’ve had great teammates, I learn a lot from my teammates, and it’s just development routines that work for you and keep building off that.”"
Peña also missed a few days of the LIDOM season due to a positive COVID-19 test. Peña was symptomatic in the process, as the shortstop noted that he was bummed by not competing with teammates for a short stretch.
Peña doesn’t believe that one can compare winter league baseball to other professional leagues. Due to a strong mixture of players that are currently in MLB, in the Minor Leagues or are former professional baseball players, prospects like Peña are getting a taste of the action.
This past season, Peña competed against two current Astros — right-handed pitcher Bryan Abreu and outfielder Jose Siri. Both Peña and Siri’s team made it to the final, where they would go back and forth with one another in an atmosphere that Peña feels is unmatched.
"“The whole country is invested into the baseball season,” Peña said. “In the Dominican Republic, fans look forward to the baseball season. That’s all they have. So they look forward to the end of October. So when the season starts, the environment is an unreal nature, and that’s one of the beauties of that league and that’s why I loved going there for months.”"
The energy and the celebration drew more heads to LIDOM this past winter, especially because many fans looked for baseball content during the MLB lockout. There, fans were treated to an electricity of baseball that Peña believes is better for the game.
"“I see baseball moving in that direction. Players are starting to show more personality,” Peña said. “We want the players to be able to show who they really are and play the game hard and let the best man win.”"
Peña’s team fell short of a title for the 2021-2022 season, as Siri and the Gigantes del Cibao advanced to the Caribbean Series.
Following the LIDOM season, Peña returned home to Providence, Rhode Island. It was his first time being home since January of 2021, but Peña noted that players are used to it, dubbing prospects, “road warriors.” Wherever prospects need to play, that’s where they’ll be.
Peña would practice at batting cages and indoor facilities in his hometown while also making a one hour trek each day to Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts.
"“I would get my weightlifting in there, which was the main focus coming back from the Dominican,” Peña said. “I wanted to get some strength back, and I wanted to get some mobility back and get moving better.”"
Beyond the diamond, a return home this summer meant that Peña could rekindle relationships with friends from his childhood and see his family that he went without for about a year.
"“It’s always great to see my family and some home cooking,” Peña said. “That’s what I miss the most. Aside from seeing the family, I get to reconnect with friends that were pretty close to me (growing) up … They know when it’s time to go, that we’re not going to see each other for a long time.”"
A few weeks ago, Peña made the drive from Providence to Miami, Florida, where he now awaits his fate with the ongoing lockout. He has not been in much contact with team personnel due to lockout rules, but he has worked out with fellow prospect Alex De Goti.
De Goti was added to the Astros 40-man last April with the roster taking a hit with COVID-19 cases. His stay lasted a week, before he was removed without waivers to add the players who were placed into health and safety protocol.
The infielder has since been a helping hand to Peña over the last two seasons. The two were teammates to round out the Triple-A season and have spent their offseason in the cage together.
"“(De Goti) is always giving me tips,” Peña said. “I love working with him because he gets us working and he also helps you at the same time. We bounce ideas off of each other.”"
Along with De Goti, Peña noted other major leaguers are present, and he had the opportunity to face big league arms in the last three weeks in Miami. The shortstop feels like he has everything he needs until he can start training with the Astros and that he will hit the ground running once they know when the season will start.
Going into the season, Peña is not setting personal goals for himself with numbers. He sees it as a way to distract himself from performing at his best ability without providing excuses to things that he can control.
The shortstop hammers the idea of working hard and doing his homework before each game. Preparation is the highest priority on his list, while also looking for recovery and control over the aspects of keeping his body healthy.
"“I tell myself I’m going to prepare every single day knowing that my goal is to have this mentality going into every game,” Peña said."
Peña wants to be a sponge this spring; he wants to learn as much as he can from the major leaguers that he could be playing alongside in 2022.
"“Just being open to talk with players,” Peña said regarding a goal to start the year. “I love picking their brains and I love talking to them and seeing how they go about their game. And I want to be able to hang out with the “Caballos” like I always say. (Those being) the Jose Altuves, the (Alex) Bregmans, the Yuli Gurriels, the Carlos Correas, and (I want to) learn from them.”"
A year from now, Jeremy Peña hopes to be walking around with a World Series ring on his hand, he said while smiling ear-to-ear. At 24-years-old, the prospect has high hopes for the 2022 season and could not be more excited for a chance to play at the major-league level.