Coming from a baseball family, the theory was always that Francisco Pena would shoot through the Mets system and be their starting catcher by 2012. Although his progress has been slower than what that timetable would have required, there is no question that Pena is moving closer to where he needs to be. Now in his sixth season with the organization, and 22-years-old, he is no longer a raw recruit but someone with enough training and experience to make his pitching staff and teammates better through his leadership.
Pena, as a catcher, has to be a student of the game. With his father Tony, who played 18 years in the majors as a starting catcher for Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Boston, and several other clubs and who is now a Yankee’s coach, Francisco has an excellent baseball background and pedigree. His brother Tony is also a pro-baseball player who has played shortstop in the bigs with K.C. and Atlanta.
Promoted to Binghamton from St. Lucie on June 21st, Pena got off to a hot start with the bat at Double-A but has since cooled off. Part of the reason is his position on the field. As a catcher he has the added responsibility of learning not only his pitchers, their stuff and what they like to throw in certain situations, but the league’s hitters as well, and their weaknesses. Pena told me as long as he stays healthy, he will continue to learn more about the game every day.
I got a chance to talk to Francisco at New Britain the week before last, and he was nice enough to answer some questions for us here on MMO. It was a real fun chat, and he’s very interesting to talk to. I found I didn’t have to ask him complete questions for the most part. I would just toss the gist of a query out there, and he would scoop up the question in mid-sentence and run with it. His answers were fantastic, full of good stuff. Tidbits and observations that are the product of living a baseball life from the time he was a tot. So without further fanfare, let’s get on with my interview with B-Mets catcher Francisco Pena.
Petey: I’m talking to Binghamton Mets catcher Francisco Pena in the third-base dugout at New Britain Stadium. Francisco, you made the jump this season from High-A St. Lucie, to Double-A Binghamton. How do you feel about your time in the Eastern League so far?
Francisco: Pretty good, pretty good, started the season here in Double-A swinging the bat pretty well. Struggling a little bit with my bat, but the defense is there. Doing a good job with the pitching staff. Getting to know the new group of guys on the pitching staff in Double-A. I know some of the guys from last year. But It’s been pretty good, it’s been pretty fine. It’s all the same baseball, you try to do nothing different, it’s just a little bit quicker but it’s been fun, it’s been real nice.
Petey: Let’s talk about the pitching staff. Can you tell us your impressions of the starting rotation here?
Francisco: I would say I’m trying to do the same thing, not trying to change nothing, it’s still the same baseball, like I said it’s probably a little bit quicker. I know most of the guys, I caught Peavey last year. I caught Gorski last year, I caught Armando Rodriguez, caught Wheeler. So I have a pretty good idea of some of the guys in the starting rotation, and some of the guys who are in the bullpen. It’s alright, it’s been pretty good and we’ve been having a pretty good communication.
Petey: As far as your hitting goes, you mentioned you’ve been struggling a little bit. What sort of things are you working on to help you swing the bat better?
Francisco: You know when your struggling, for me and for most of the guys, we have heard from the big league guys, and me being in a big league family, I’ve been talking with my dad, and talking with Luis Natera our hitting coach, and it’s getting a quality pitch to hit, you know? Getting a good pitch to hit, we as young players especially Latin players, we like to swing early. But you just gotta have a quality pitch and just be patient and just get a good pitch to swing, and you’ll be alright.
Petey: So is it things like pitch recognition your working on now, or strike zone discipline?
Francisco: No, it’s just let the ball travel a little bit more, and try to hit the ball the other way. Just let the ball travel you know? Let the ball travel. I’m just trying to rush a little bit, you know? When your feeling good at the plate, you feel strong and you try to do too much. Just let the ball travel and try not to do too much. That’s when you get in trouble, when you try to do too much.
Petey: Sounds like my golf game. You’re a big, strong hitter, do you consider yourself a power hitter? And what sort of things do you work on to improve on your power-stroke?
Francisco: Actually, I don’t consider myself a power hitter. I consider myself a gap-to-gap hitter. Hopefully, in the future I can be a power hitter but right now I just want to concentrate on hitting the ball gap-to-gap. You know just learn more for myself, you keep learning so much stuff from baseball. Every single day you keep learning. I just gotta keep learning myself and keep hitting the ball gap-to-gap, and although I don’t consider myself a power hitter, I’m hitting more power this year. I’m hitting more doubles, and extra-base-hits in ball-games. But I consider myself a gap-to-gap hitter.
Petey: Did you set any goals for what you want to accomplish this season? Or where you’d like to be by the end of the year?
Francisco: Actually, I’m very happy I’m here right now, you know? I was injured for almost the whole year when I broke my foot. And I’m just thankful, I thank God in just being healthy, you know? Cause being healthy is the big thing, and I just hope, hopefully I can finish strong here, keep working on my defense, my catching. Keep working on my defense, keep working on my hitting and see where it takes us next year. Hopefully start next year here or start next year at Triple-A, whatever, I just want to have a good year. Just see what happens. See what happens and stay healthy.
Petey: Your a very good defensive catcher, what kinds of things are you trying to fine tune?
Francisco: The most important thing is like when you know your pitching staff. So that’s what I’m working on just keep knowing your pitching staff. That’s the most important thing in baseball. What you see in the big leagues most of the time is catchers sometimes don’t hit. There so good defensively, defensive catchers, sometimes they learn how to hit more. Get to know themselves, get better approaches, but I’m concentrating on just knowing my pitchers, I have a good idea what I’m doing behind the plate. If I know the other hitters from the other team. I know their tendencies and their weakness. And I’ll be alright.
Petey: Do you talk pitching with the staff between starts?
Francisco: Absolutely, most of the times they say position players hang out with position players, and pitchers hang out with pitchers. Actually I talk to the position players as well about the hitters on the other teams. Sometimes pitchers, if they don’t know somebody else and some of the guys played with them in college, or some of the guys played with them in winter ball, they may have a better idea. But actually, you know I talk to most of the guys and most of our pitchers, and have a good plan to go to in the game, you know? So it’s just a matter of confidence of the guys. And having good confidence with the pitcher and be a leader behind the plate. Being like the quarterback, being the catcher, that’s the important thing.
Petey: Thank you so much Francisco, we really appreciate your time. Good luck the rest of the way, stay healthy finish strong, and we’ll speak to you again.
Francisco: Ok, thanks.
I hope you enjoyed this interview, check back next week for some more surprises right here on MMO.