If you can remember all the way back to mid-2012 you'll remember how painful--but necessary--it was to part ways with Zack Greinke. He was a fan favorite and a very good pitcher. But with free agency--and a large payday--looming and the Brewers will no real chance at the playoffs, Doug Melvin sent Greinke to the Angels for SS Jean Segura, RHP Johnny Hellweg, and RHP Ariel Pena. The former two players are with different organizations now, leaving Pena as the last remaining part of the trade within the Brewers organization.
It's kind of funny because he was pretty universally viewed as the throw-in. The last piece of the trade just to give it that hefty feeling of being a 3-for-1. As we all know, Jean Segura was sent to the Diamondbacks by new GM David Stearns. Johnny Hellweg made a brief appearance at the major league level, but Tommy John surgery, and continued command issues eventually led to his designation and subsequently his choosing free agency. The last piece of that trade, Ariel Pena, might soon be on his way out too.
In some ways Pena wasn't all that different from Hellweg. They both have/had big stuff and even bigger command issues. Pena has a career minor league walk rate of 4.4 BB/9 in 994.2 IP. That's not very good and in fact, it was worse in 2013 (5.00 BB//9) and 2014 (5.26 BB/9). Most of that came as a starter though. And in 2015 the Brewers finally started converting him to relief.
He made 43 appearances in the minors of which 7 were starts. In those 82.2 IP he had a markedly improved 3.48 BB/9. I didn't get to see most of those innings and I've not read any reports on his season. So I cannot say with complete certainty that the improved walk rate is indicative of better command. But it's a good sign. So maybe we should pump the breaks on the "soon to be on his way out too" talk.
The Brewers are in a great position to give fringe talent like his a chance to blossom. His is a profile that could thrive in the bullpen. Reports once had him sitting in the mid-90's with an ability to reach back and hit 98 mph when he needed to. In 27.1 IP at the major league level though, PITCHf/x clocks his average fastball velocity at 91.5 mph. I don't know if that's where he lives now, if he dialed back his velocity to get more command, if he was tired out at the end of his first season in relief, or if it's something else. But even if we assume his fastball has gone from plus to just average, he still has a very good slider. That's enough to warrant a look in some mop-up innings in 2016.
I'm reminded of another reliever with big stuff and poor command that was given a chance by the Brewers, who were rewarded for their patience. Actually, I'm reminded of two: Jeremy Jeffress and Michael Blazek. I don't know that the book has been completely written on those two yet, and I don't know how Ariel Pena will stack up to them. But I'm very interested to find out.