Wednesday, July 4, 2012
 (Shawn E. Davis/

By Scott Stedman - Minor League Reporter

Angels fans are clamoring for some starting pitching help after Ervin Santana and Dan Haren have struggled mightily.  Now, with Haren admitting to a back problem that will likely put him on the disabled list, a hole is left in the rotation that was once acclaimed as the best in baseball.  The answer to the Angels' pitching woes is Ariel Pena.  Pena was born in Los Jovillos, Dominican Republic and was signed by the Angels as an 17-year-old on Feb. 17th, 2007.  The 6'3" right handed flame-thrower went to the Dominican Summer League where he quickly dominated hitters for two seasons.  Pena then slowly started to climb the ladder in the organization.  One problem has always remained for Pena, however.  He has not been able to consistently find the strike zone, that is, until this year.

Going into the 2012 season, Baseball America had Pena as the Angels #9 prospect.  They also ranked Pena's slider as the best in the organization.  From their organizational rankings, "Pena always has shown plus velocity on his fastball and slider, but his shaky command has held him back."  Pena sits in the mid 90s with his fastball, occasionally touching 97, 98.  He has a sinker in the low 90s and that hard slider in the 83-86 range.  This year he has added another-swing-and miss pitch, a heavy change-up in the high 80s that has a lot of late life.  He showed his plus stuff in Spring Training with the big club, throwing 5 shutout innings, giving up just 1 hit and punching out 5.  Mike Scioscia even had a glowing review of the now 23-year-old stating, “He’s probably, of all the things I’ve seen in camp, one of the brightest youngsters we can talk about."  All this praise before he even stepped on a mound in 2012, and boy Pena has had a remarkable campaign. 

This year, Pena is pitching in Double-A for the Arkansas Travelers.  He has put up a 2.95 ERA with 93 K's in 94.2 innings of work.  More importantly, Pena's BB/9 is down to 3.3 by far the lowest of his career in the States.  His ERA and K's are both good for 3rd in the Texas League.  Pena also is one of only five pitchers to toss a complete game this year in the Texas League.  While watching him pitch, I have noticed a huge improvement for Pena.  Earlier in his career he has struggled with the so-called 'big inning'.  At times, he looked as if he was pitching with his hair on fire, completely losing the strike zone.  Now, he is breathing.  He has limited the damage, and kept his team in the game virtually every time he goes out there.  Over his last 10 starts he has been getting better and better, posting a 2.09 ERA with 59 K's in 60 innings. 

If Haren were to go on the DL, it would line up perfectly for an Ariel Pena promotion due to the fact that they are pitching on the same days.  Remember, Garrett Richards made the jump from Double-A to the big leagues last season with pretty similar numbers.  The Travelers are in Little Rock tonight, but Ariel Pena may soon be on his way to Anaheim.

Here's an interview David Saltzer conducted with Ariel Pena last season, with fellow Angels prospect Jean Segura translating.
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