Going into the 2022 season, expectations for Jeremy Pena were very high. Those inside the Houston Astros organization were excited about the young prospect. Hopes were high for Pena, and they had to be, given that the team was content with letting Carlos Correa leave in free agency. Correa is one of the most revered figures in Astros history, and one of the best players in baseball. There is a lot of pressure on any hyped prospect, but especially one who has to fill the shoes of a player like Correa. Nearly two months into the 2022 MLB season, Pena is exceeding the sky-high expectations that were placed on him.
Pena was widely regarded as one of the best defenders throughout his minor league career because of his play at shortstop. There was very little doubt that his glove would carry over to the big leagues. This has mostly held true in 38 games entering Wednesday. Pena is tied for second among AL shortstops in outs above average according to Baseball Savant with +4. While the shortstop is second in the AL with seven errors committed, the team is not too concerned about that.
Where Pena has really exceeded expectations is at the plate. Across 182 minor league games, he had a .444 slugging percentage with 18 home runs. These numbers are very respectable, but not especially strong. Through 38 games this season, he is slugging .504 with seven homers. He is on pace for around 30 home runs. His .293 batting average is tops on the team entering Wednesday.
Between his plus defense and powerful offense, Pena has accumulated 2.3 WAR according to Baseball-Reference, which is second in the AL only to Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels. While Houston expected Pena to be a contributor, nobody expected him to be one of the most valuable players in the league. This pleasant surprise has helped Houston stay at the top of the AL West standings.
A lot of rookies have some peaks and valleys through their first season, but Pena has been remarkably consistent. However, that doesn’t mean that their aren’t some struggles to come. In terms of advanced metrics, his average exit velocity, hard hit percentage, xSLG (expected slugging percentage), and barrel percentage are all above average or great. However, his chase rate and whiff percentage are in the 18th and 25th percentiles. This means that he chases as well as swings and misses often. It is not easy to chase often and still have a lot of success. However, with the poise and tools that Pena has shown early in his career, he seems more than capable of maintaining the level of success that he has had to this point.
Before the season began, Jose Altuve told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic that Pena has ‘superstar’ potential. The Astros organization raved about the talented shortstop, and we are seeing what the hype was about. In an Astros lineup that has been inconsistent through almost two months, Pena has delivered key hit after key hit. Jeremy Pena has placed himself towards the top of the Rookie of the Year picture and has become one of the most essential Astros in 2022.