Cape Cod Baseball League Hall of Famer Carlos Pena (Harwich, 1996; Wareham, 1997) is back in baseball.
The veteran slugger has signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers and has begun his comeback with the Round Rock Express, Texas’ affiliate in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Pena went 1-for-4 with a double on Tuesday night as Round Rock’s designated hitter in a 7-5 victory over Sacramento.
Pena’s previous game action came in spring training with the Los Angeles Angels after signing with that team as a minor league free agent on Jan. 28. He hit just .139 (5-for-26) with no homers and two RBIs in 20 Cactus League games before he was released March 23, triggering speculation that perhaps his playing career had come to an end.
His last big league appearances came in four games with the Kansas City Royals last September.
Pena, 36, returns to the club that originally selected him in the first round (10th overall) of the 1998 June draft after he starred at Northeastern University and turned in two outstanding seasons in the Cape League, which eventually led to his CCBL Hall of Fame induction in 2003.
He made his major league debut with the Rangers in 2001.
The left-handed swinger has a career .233 average with 285 home runs for Texas (2001), Oakland (2002), Detroit (2002-05), Boston (2006), Tampa Bay (2007-10, 2012), Chicago Cubs (2011), Houston (2013), and Kansas City (2013). Pena has six different seasons of 25 or more homers and had a career-high 46 home runs in 2007.
An American League All-Star in 2009, he also won a Gold Glove Award (2008) and Silver Slugger Award (2007), and in 2007 he was named American League Comeback Player of the Year.
He’s hoping lightning will strike twice after a disappointing 2013 season in which he hit a combined .207/.321/.346 with 13 doubles, eight homers and 25 RBIs in 85 games for the Astros and four for the Royals. It was a far cry from his glory years at Tampa Bay, where he averaged 39 home runs and 108 RBIs per season from 2007-09, including a career-high 46 homers in 2007.
If Pena shows he can still hit, he will give the Rangers organizational depth at first base/DH, where they have been thinned by injuries. Both Prince Fielder and his successor Mitch Moreland (Bourne, 2006-07) are out for the season after undergoing major surgery and incumbent first baseman Brad Snyder is a career minor-leaguer. Down on the farm, their top corner infield prospect, Joey Gallo, was only recently promoted to Double-A.
For Pena, the opportunity is there for the taking. All he has to do is hit and he’ll quickly punch his ticket back to the major leagues. And if he can find the old magic in his bat, he could make history as the only two-time winner in the 10-year history of the Comeback Player of the Year award.