Jeter's decreased range at shortstop, especially to his left, has been an increasingly hot topic around baseball -- which the Yankee high command has pointedly chosen to ignore, because there didn't appear to be any bona fide prospects in the system. That, however, all changed this spring with the emergence of 23-year-old Ramiro Pena, whose dazzling glovework has made him the frontrunner to win the utility infielder's job until Alex Rodriguez comes back in May.
Fact is, Pena has always demonstrated world class defense since being signed by the Yankees out of Mexico in 2005, but his improvement with the bat is what's elevated him to legitimate major league prospect status.
"When I first saw him three years ago, you could knock the bat out of his hands," said one veteran scout whose primary assignment is in the minor leagues. "But he was a magician with the glove and that made him someone to keep an eye on. Now that he's gained a little weight, put on a little muscle, he's no longer an 'out.' He can handle the bat. I always felt his glove would get him to the big leagues, but now I can see him as an everyday shortstop."
Pena hit .266 at Double-A Trenton last year, but scouts who saw him say he appeared to be hampered from offseason shoulder surgery. That has not been the case this spring.
"Best looking young shortstop I've seen in a couple of years," said one National League scout.
So assuming Pena is the real deal, it would seem that with another year of Triple-A apprenticeship, presumably mixed with stints at the big league level, he'll be ready for regular duty with the Yankees. Jeter will be 35 next season, the last year of his contract, and, his pride aside, he can't expect to extend his career as a shortstop. He doesn't hit for enough power to be a DH and, so, a move to center field seems inevitable. As Hall of Famer Robin Yount can attest, there's no shame in moving from shortstop to center field, and as the Tampa Bay Rays will attest after acquiring Jason Bartlett from the Minnesota Twins last year, there's no substitute for defense at shortstop.
I haven't seen Ramiro Pena play. Until Sunday, I had never heard of Ramiro Pena. And now he's the Yankees' shortstop of the future!
This past winter, John Sickels wrote about 40 Yankees prospects in his book. Ramiro Pena wasn't one of them.
This past winter, the guys at Baseball America wrote about 30 Yankees prospects in their book. Ramiro Pena wasn't one of them. They mentioned a number of other young players, too, in their minor league depth chart for the Yankees. And here's where Ramiro Pena shows up: behind Carmen Angelini (Yankees' No. 28 prospect), Garrison Lassiter (not ranked) and Eduardo Nunez (not ranked).
I'm not saying Bill Madden's scouts are wrong about Ramiro Pena. But if they're right, they and Madden should be summarily promoted to the highest positions in their fields. Or, at the very least, they should get together and write a book about young baseball players who are a lot better than everyone else thinks.