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The Building Blocks of Pena
"My body is still fresh," said Francisco Pena in regards to the toll of the season. "It's been fun and after about 40 games, I'm still feeling strong." His has pushed his young body unlike ever before. Playing more games at a greater pace taxes a young ballplayer's body and affects performance. Such drain does not discriminate in who it appears. However, for a catcher, the affects can accumulate twice as fast, not to mention a catcher of Pena's age. Let us call Pena for what he is – a kid. At 17, he is still a kid playing among peers who are of greater physical maturity and have adapted to the doubleheaders, the long bus rides and the road trips. However, he has assumed the burden of professional training. "Our conditioning coach works hard with all of us. Some guys are older than others, but us young guys really need, and want, to stay ready. We hit the gym three days a week so that we can stay strong, not wear down, and be prepared to play everyday. It's fun. We have a great environment in the gym. We know what's expected and we push each other to get there," he detailed. His training, perhaps more than anything, will lead to further success on the field. Added muscle, agility, and reaction are areas he looks to improve. So far, he is confident the work he put in has paid dividends. "All the work I've done has strengthened most of what I do. My defense has improved, my throwing has improved and the way my body reacts to games has been great," said Pena. He has seen the results in a number of ways. He raised his ability to block balls, get out of his squat to field balls and rise quickly to throw out baserunners. While he has a large range for improvement, it is the general progress that excites not only himself, but his coaches. He will not make every play expected, but consistency is the key. "Everything has been clicking for me behind the plate. Obviously getting the outs is great, but it doesn't matter if the runner gets to second base. What matters is that I make good moves behind the plate and make a strong throw. I need to demonstrate what I can do. I just want to better myself," he said. What he may lack in his physical ability, he makes up for in his mental approach. When working with the pitching staff, there is no age line, no experience line. There is only cooperation on how best to accomplish goals. He feels no reservations in a proactive approach and letting the pitchers know what they need to do, not just what they want to do. Through such dialogue, he created close relationships with the staff. "I've got great communication with my guys. I talk to them everyday before the game. There is an understanding that no matter who is what age, especially me at 17, there needs to be confidence in yourself, confidence in your catcher and confidence in each other," Pena explained. The trust he gained from his pitchers expanded his comfort zone behind the plate. His ability to call the game, work counts, work hitters has evolved dramatically since he first reported to the Instructional League as "Tony Pena's son". He has developed his own identity behind the plate and with his teammates. His offense is still undeveloped. His ability to steadily hit professional pitching is still raw. He has achieved marginal success and growth hitting secondary pitches and using the whole field. Yet, his first season in the system is not really about his bat. It is about his advancement as a bona fide, blue chip catching prospect. Pena's eagerness to learn and his high spirits will prove incredibly valuable as the season and his career continue. He relishes his first opportunity at the professional life and seems genuinely thrilled by every chance he gets out on the diamond. "I just want to keep working on my body and keep getting better everyday. Everything is fun for me right now. I just keep pushing myself. We're doing our best, taking in everything we can and trying to win more ballgames," Pena concluded.
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