Francisco Pena spent time in major league clubhouses from a young age with his father, five-time All-Star catcher Tony Pena.
“That’s where I was born,” the Mets farmhand said. “I breathe baseball. I eat baseball. I do everything baseball.”
This March, the father and son got to share a championship experience. The 23-year-old Pena was the backup catcher on the Dominican Republic’s World Baseball Classic-winning team, which was managed by his father.Courtesy of New York Mets
The Double-A Binghamton catcher had only two at-bats while playing behind Carlos Santana, but he would not have traded the experience of being among all those superstars on a team managed by his father.
“We treated each other as a ballplayer and a manager,” Pena said. “But, as well, everybody knew that he was my dad. We have a real good relationship. When I saw him, I always treated him with respect. I always give him a kiss when I saw him. We have a father and son relationship as well.
“It wasn’t as much playing time, but it was a great experience,” Pena continued. “I learned a lot with all of those stars on our team, like Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion. I tried to get some time with Robinson Cano -- seeing his approach and how he had his game plan and routine, all the stuff he did in the cage, off the field, and learn the little stuff. Just being around Reyes and being around Encarnacion, with the big year he had as well, and seeing those approaches and plans they have.”
Francisco returned to Mets camp after the WBC 20-25 pounds lighter than during the 2012 season, which he split between Class A St. Lucie and Binghamton. He had undergone surgery for a stress fracture on the fifth metatarsal in his left foot in 2011 that required insertion of a pin. So losing weight meant less stress on the foot. He subbed water for soda and juices and increased his consumption of vegetables and chicken.
“It’s all about eating healthy,” Pena said. “Once I got routine down it was easy. I worked hard in my offseason. I played a lot of winter ball back home in the Dominican Republic. Before games I used to wake up early and just do my job. It was my game plan to try to lose a little bit of weight and try to be ready to go into spring training and have a good season here, being healthy. I had an injury, a broken foot. I’m just trying to put less stress on that foot and trying to be quicker and lose some weight. That’s what I did and it’s been working so far.”
This season, Pena is hitting .258 with four RBIs through 66 at-bats with the B-Mets while sharing duties behind the plate with 2010 third-round pick Blake Forsythe.
Pena has been with the organization since signing as a teenager in 2006. It has been a slow ascent -- his career average is .234 -- but things are now going well.
“I signed when I was 16,” Pena said. “My first year was when I was 17. And from the get-go they sent me to A-ball. I had never played baseball as much. I played baseball all my life, but we played baseball in the Dominican Republic probably like two times a week. We just practiced and practiced. We didn’t have that much repetition playing-wise.
“I’m not making excuses, but it’s hard for a young guy leaving his family, leaving his mom, leaving all his friends and just playing baseball. But now, the experience playing winter ball back home in the Dominican Republic, playing in the States for so many years, I think it’s been helping me a lot.”
Average: Kevin Plawecki, Savannah, .374; Andrew Brown, Vegas, .359; Jayce Boyd, Savannah, .351; Brandon Nimmo, Savannah, .322; Jamie Hoffmann, Vegas, .320; Cory Vaughn, Binghamton, .299; T.J. Rivera, St. Lucie, .295; Josh Satin, Vegas, .291; Omar Quintanilla, Vegas, .284; Rylan Sandoval, St. Lucie, .284.
Homers: Dustin Lawley, St. Lucie, 8; Aderlin Rodriguez, St. Lucie, 6; Kevin Plawecki, Savannah, 5; Cesar Puello, Binghamton, 5; Josh Satin, Vegas, 5.
RBI: Dustin Lawley, St. Lucie, 31; Jayce Boyd, Savannah, 30; Kevin Plawecki, Savannah, 29; Andrew Brown, Vegas, 27; Aderlin Rodriguez, St. Lucie, 25.
Steals: Alonzo Harris, Binghamton, 11; Darrell Ceciliani, Binghamton, 8; Cesar Puello, Binghamton, 7.
ERA: Rainy Lara, Savannah, 1.42; Domingo Tapia, St. Lucie, 2.23; Matt Bowman, St. Lucie, 2.47; Noah Syndergaard, St. Lucie, 2.61; Hansel Robles, St. Lucie, 2.64; Collin McHugh, Vegas, 2.74; Logan Verrett, Binghamton, 3.15; Rafael Montero, Binghamton, 3.47; Zack Wheeler, Vegas, 3.74; Luis Cessa, Savannah, 3.93.
Wins: Matt Bowman, St. Lucie, 6; Logan Verrett, Binghamton, 5; Rainy Lara, Savannah, 4; Rafael Montero, Binghamton, 4; Gabriel Ynoa, Savannah, 4.
Saves: Jeff Walters, Binghamton, 10; Bret Mitchell, Savannah, 4; T.J. Chism, St. Lucie, 3.
Strikeouts: Rafael Montero, Binghamton, 54; Zack Wheeler, Vegas, 47; Matt Bowman, St. Lucie, 42; Rainy Lara, Savannah, 38; Noah Syndergaard, St. Lucie, 38.
• St. Lucie prospect Domingo Tapia, whose 2.23 ERA ranks second among qualifiers in the organization, is not expected to be out long after burning his left, non-pitching hand cooking. He needs to wait for blistering to subside so that he can again put on a glove. Curiously, Tapia is the second St. Lucie pitcher to burn a hand in three years. Jeurys Familia also did so while with the Florida State League club.
• Princeton product Matt Bowman, the organization’s 13th round pick last year, has not missed a beat since a promotion. Bowman, who has a Tim Lincecum-style delivery, moved to a collective 6-0 between Savannah and St. Lucie after combining with T.J. Chism on a one-hit shutout Tuesday. In two Florida State League starts, Bowman has a 2.08 ERA and .152 opponent batting average in 13 innings.
• Noah Syndergaard, the right-hander acquired from the Blue Jays in the December trade for R.A. Dickey, is on a tear with St. Lucie. Since allowing seven runs in three innings against Fort Myers on April 18, Syndergaard has allowed four runs (two earned) in 26 innings over four starts -- for an 0.69 ERA during that span.
• Brandon Hicks, the former Braves/A’s infielder who cleared waivers at the end of spring training and remained with the organization, should quickly move to Las Vegas. Hicks recently played in extended spring training games after recovering from a calf injury. He appeared in a St. Lucie game for the first time Tuesday.
• 2011 first-round pick Brandon Nimmo is taking full batting practice with Savannah and should reenter games any day. Nimmo has not played since April 29 because of a bruised hand.
• The Mets are proceeding very slowly with right-hander Michael Fulmer, who underwent surgery for a torn meniscus during spring training. Fulmer pitched two innings in an extended spring training game a couple of weeks ago, but has not been in a game since. The Mets say nothing is wrong, but they don’t want to go too quickly and do damage to his arm.