Detroit Tigers sign catcher Brayan Pena to minor league deal

The Detroit Tigers have added veteran catcher Brayan Pena on a minor league deal. Pena played for the Tigers back in 2013.

The Detroit Tigers continue to add depth at a key position, signing veteran catcher Brayan Pena to a minor league deal. Although an invitation to spring training has not been specified, Pena will likely get a chance to compete for the backup catcher role behind James McCann in 2018.

Pena has been in the major leagues since 2005, when he debuted with the Atlanta Braves. All told he has accrued 1,950 plate appearances in the show, slashing .259/.299/.351.

Pena spent 2013 with the Tigers and enjoyed one of the most productive seasons of his career. Across 229 at-bats, Pena hit .297 with four home runs and a career-high 94 wRC+.

2017 was the first year since 2005 that Pena did not play in the major leagues. He spent the year in Triple-A with the Kansas City Royals, where he hit .274 in just 134 plate appearances. 

Pena’s value is not in his bat, but rather as a steadying presence behind the plate.

Backup to James McCann?

However, in order for Pena to play in his 13th major league season, he will have to beat out a pair of veterans for the backup catcher job.

28-year-old John Hicks is the favorite to backup James McCann in 2018.

Hicks played in 60 games for Detroit last season, although he only caught in 18 of them. His .266/.326/.439 line was good enough for a 102 wRC+, and his six home runs was a nice bonus.

The Tigers have every reason to give Hicks a chance at the backup role. He is young, cost-controlled and has a chance to stick around in the big leagues for a while.

Detroit’s other backup catcher option is Derek Norris, whom the Tigers controversially signed back in December. Norris, 28, was an All-Star back in 2014 with the A’s.

His numbers have rapidly declined since then, culminating in an ugly .201/.258/.380 line in 2017 with the Rays. All told Norris has hit .230 for his career with 63 home runs in 680 games.

He was suspended under baseball’s new domestic violence policy for the last month of the 2017 season. He became the fifth player to face punishment under the policy.

Norris comes with considerable baggage, and his performance on the field does not merit him winning the job over Hicks or Pena.

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Pena will likely serve as depth in Triple-A for the Tigers with McCann and Hicks handling the majority of the catching at the big league level. With Grayson Greiner and Jake Rogers waiting in the wings however, it will not be long until there is a new backstop in the Motor City.


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