Tampa Bay Rays' Carlos Pena, right, gets a handshake from third base coach Tom Foley after Pena hit a second-inning, two-run home run off Boston Red Sox pitcher Brad Penny during a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2009, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
The Tampa Bay Rays’ home run powerhouse has had a career full of ups and downs, but things have been looking up recently as the slugger qualified for his first All Star team this season after playing in his first World Series in 2008.
Although nationally the hockey program draws the most attention to Northeastern, and the basketball team has had a solid history, neither of them have been Northeastern University’s best talent pool when it comes to turning professional. That honor, at least at this point in time, belongs to the consistently solid baseball program. Of all the Huskies to be drafted by baseball franchises, one stands out above the rest: Carlos Peña, currently the first baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Peña has been one of the Rays’ best players for the three seasons he’s been in St. Petersburg. Now only in his third season with the franchise, Peña is already second on the Rays’ all-time home run list, currently sitting 24 long balls away from Aubrey Huff’s franchise record 128. He’s also sitting at fourth on the franchise’s all-time RBI leaderboard, behind Fred McGriff, Huff and Mr. Rays himself, Carl Crawford.
Peña still to this day holds the record for the highest draft pick a Husky has ever received, the tenth pick in the MLB draft in 1998 by the Texas Rangers. A highly-touted prospect in the Rangers organization, Peña was viewed by scouts as a potential impact player on the big league level, albeit a high-risk/high-reward style hitter. (Meaning that he strikes out a lot for all his home run power.) Oakland sent four players to the Rangers in 2002 in exchange for Peña and Mike Venafro. Later in the year, Oakland sent Peña to Detroit in a three-team deal that sent Jeff Weaver to the New York Yankees and Ted Lilly to the A’s. There was a slight show of prowess in 2004 when the slugger hit 27 home runs on the season, but his real breakout came in 2007 after a rough 2006 that saw the Massachusetts-raised first baseman released by both the Yankees and the Red Sox. In ’07, for the franchise once known as the Devil Rays, Carlos Peña socked a career high 46 home runs, good for second in the AL that season. The next year, with a much improved Rays franchise, the former Husky hit 31 home runs, drove in 102 runs (many of them crucial for a team that ended up in the World Series), and earned his first Gold Glove award at first base over defensive standouts like Kevin Youkilis and Mark Teixiera. (Unfortunately, Peña currently leads the American League in strikeouts. He’s on pace to set a career high in the category with 138 Ks so far. The good news is that he’s also second in the AL in home runs with 27 thus far.)