Morning notes: Don’t dismiss Pena’s potential role
Had a good talk this morning with backup catcher Brayan Pena, who discussed his defection from Cuba as a teenager while he was playing in a tournament in Venezuela, and later becoming an American citizen and settling in nearby Kissimmee. It’s an amazing journey he has been through, and joining a team with championship aspirations is the next chapter.
Jim Leyland said he talked with Pena yesterday. He said he has admired Pena’s game from afar the last several years, but hadn’t really talked much with him.
“He’s got a good feel for things,” Leyland said.
With a relatively young, but veteran switch-hitting catcher backing up Avila, it’s a good situation for the Tigers to have, and it’s one that kind of fell to them. They went into the offseason planning on Bryan Holaday backing up Avila, but wanting an insurance option (like what Omir Santos was) in case of injury. As it turns out, finding a veteran catcher willing to sign a minor-league deal with a contending team was tougher than finding a veteran catcher willing to sign a reasonable Major League deal to be a backup. And the Tigers liked Pena, so they changed course.
“We feel pretty good about our situation,” Leyland said, noting they still like Holaday a lot.
A scout who tracked the Royals quite a bit last year said this winter that Pena is a great pickup if he’s playing a couple days week and not every day. If he’s getting that kind of work and Alex Avila is catching 4-5 times a week, I think that’s a mix they’d take.
Other notes from this morning:
- Ramon Santiago has reported to camp after playing winter ball well into January for Escogido in the Dominican League. It’s something the Tigers wanted him to do after he skipped winter ball last offseason and then struggled for much of the 2012 season. Between a good winter campaign and a tweak to his offseason workouts, he says he’s lighter than he was a year ago and feels more mobile. He plans to do moreagility work this spring with strength and conditioning coach Javair Gillett. Though nobody has said Santiago is guaranteed a roster spot out of camp, and there were rumors the Tigers were gauging trade interest for Santiago at the Winter Meetings in December, I think it would take an awful spring for Santiago to be cut. Leyland knows what he has with him, and he’d love to get the Santiago he had in 2011.
- Leyland hasn’t eliminated Casey Crosby from consideration for a bullpen spot, but he plans on stretching out Crosby as a starter this spring and going from there. “We think he’s a top prospect,” Leyland said. “And who knows?”
- While Leyland has his annual warning against reading too much from bullpen sessions, he did say he liked the sliders that Rick Porcello was throwing in his session yesterday. It’s a pitch he has been working on with pitching coach Jeff Jones, and might be the biggest benefit from the general mechanical work they’ve put in.
- Leyland on Bruce Rondon: “He seems to have a good personality. He doesn’t seem to be star struck.”
More pitchers fielding practice this morning. Leyland is hitting ground balls to pitchers, which means at some point Justin Verlander is going to dare Leyland to try to hit a ground ball by him.