Washington Nationals: Ronald Pena a late-blooming prospect to watch

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 19: A detailed view of an Adidas baseball glove at Nationals Park on June 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 19: A detailed view of an Adidas baseball glove at Nationals Park on June 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Among the players that the Washington Nationals extended a non-roster invite to was Ronald Pena. The right-hander is a late-bloomer to keep an eye on.

Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers are well underway with their workouts down in West Palm Beach. One of those pitchers is a name that not many Nats fans may have heard of in Ronald Pena, who we should get to see in action this spring.

The 27-year-old has had a long road through the minor leagues after being drafted in the 16th round by the Nationals in 2012. He was initially taken as a starter out of Palm Beach State Community College but has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in recent seasons.

Last season, he made a breakthrough of sorts, dominating at High-A with the Potomac Nationals to the tune of a 1.98 ERA and 12.5 K/9. He was part of a dominating trio the P-Nats had which included James Bourque and Jordan Mills, locking down the end of games.

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He did struggle a little bit with the Harrisburg Senators in Double-A posting a 4.68 ERA, though the underlying metrics were slightly kinder. His xFIP was a reasonable 3.99 as the long ball bit him hard in a small sample size, which is likely to correct itself moving forward.

Pena has a potentially dominant arsenal if he can continue to develop in the upper reaches of the minor leagues though. He possesses a fastball that runs all the way up to the upper-90s and a mid-80s slider, though like many Nats relief prospects, he doesn’t always have consistent command.

The Nationals have plenty of similar relievers lurking in the minors such as Jimmy Cordero, Austin Adams and the newly-acquired Tanner Rainey. While Pena is the oldest of that group, if he can display just a little more control, it’s entirely possible that he moves up the upper minors quickly in 2019.

That’s where his non-roster invite comes in, giving him a chance to flash his stuff to the major league staff in person. And at the very least, he gets the chance to have valuable time with top-flight coaches and players. He’s even in the same workout group as Max Scherzer, hardly a bad pitcher to study.

It will be worth keeping an eye on him in a week or so when the Nats begin their Grapefruit League slate to see whether he gets some of the later innings to give him some valuable mound-time. Though it’ll be against the oppositions’ minor leaguers and non-roster invitees, he can show what he’s got in a game situation for the coaching staff.

Next. Previewing the Nats' position battles this spring. dark

Though Ronald Pena is one of the Washington Nationals’ unheralded names in camp, he has such intriguing raw stuff. He’ll likely head back to Double-A to start the year, but putting on a show for the big league coaches is never a bad thing, to at least keep him in the back of their mind.