Twenty years ago, when the Braves had just hired former Pirates' Manager Chuck Tanner, the team tried to acquire his former catcher in Pittsburgh, All-Star Tony Pena. He was arguably the best catcher in the league, and would have been a huge upgrade over Bruce Benedict and Rick Cerone.
Well, twenty years later, the Braves will add a Tony Pena to its roster, but it will be the elder Pena's son, the 25-year old infielder who has been in the Braves' organization since being signed in 1999.
The younger Pena, called "TJ" and sometimes even "Junior," was called up from Triple-A Richmond Tuesday to replace Chipper Jones on Atlanta's roster. The major league stint may be a short one for Pena, as the Braves expect Jones to be back from his knee and ankle sprains in two weeks.
Pena has developed into a solid prospect over the past several seasons. Defensively, he can be spectacular at shortstop. For the first time in his life he played at third base in spring training and did well, proving to Bobby Cox that if this scenario occurred, Pena could be a versatile reserve for the Atlanta team. Pena has also played second base in winter ball in the past, so he could be used there as well if needed.
Offensively, Pena has struggled with his strikeouts, but the Braves noticed a huge difference this spring. Cox mentioned Pena after several spring training games as one of the players he had noticed had improved since last year.
Pena's lifetime batting average in the minors coming into this season was .248. He was off to a 4-for-14 (.286) start for Richmond so far this year. Last season Pena hit .249 with 5 home runs and 40 RBI with 17 stolen bases.
TJ's dad is now the first base coach for the New York Yankees, after managing the Kansas City Royals from 2002 through the middle of last season.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at email@example.com.