Royals' Erick Peña Working To Find His Swing Of Old
The Royals signed Dominican outfielder Erick Peña for $3.9 million in 2019 but had to wait two years for him to make his professional debut.
Like all minor leaguers, Peña lost the 2020 season to the Covid pandemic. He finally got his chance a year later in the Arizona Complex League.
He collected 12 hits in his first 43 at-bats, but his season soon spiraled. He had just six hits in 59 at-bats in August and September. Pena finished the season with a final line of .161/.256/.314.
“He started chasing those results, and ultimately he put himself into a tough position and got out of his own swing,” said Alec Zumwalt, the Royals' senior director of hitting and player performance. “The chasing of results led to the breakdown of the mechanics.”
It was back to the laboratory for Peña after the season, with the goal of getting him back to the swing he had when he was 16. He focused on his position in the box, the distance off the plate, his stride length, and hand position.
“The 16-year-old swing is basically what we’ve been trying to get him back to,” Zumwalt said. “It’s a beautiful swing. It’s a consistent swing. And it creates a lot of loud noises."
Zumwalt and the hitting development staff gave Peña a daily list of tasks, not just related to his work in the batting cage but also watching how much sleep he was getting and what he was eating. He began keeping a daily log and reviewing it with the staff.
Peña worked in the batting cages every day rather than playing in games during instructional league, and he continued that regiment through the winter at the Royals' academy in the Dominican Republic.
That extra work and dedication in routine was showing results for the 19-year-old since his return to Arizona in January. A scout from a rival American League club reported that, while Peña's swing still has some length, it was looking much better than before.
— One year after drafting Bobby Witt Jr., the Royals went for another shortstop in the 2020 draft, taking Baylor product Nick Loftin with the 32nd overall pick. While he moved around the infield for High-A Midwest League-champion Quad Cities, Loftin spent most of his debut season at shortstop.
Thus, it was a bit of a surprise to see Loftin listed as an outfielder on the Royals' 2022 early minicamp roster and taking reps in center field during minor league spring training. The position change has been an experiment by the Royals to see how to best use Loftin’s extreme athleticism and find his fastest path to the big leagues.
In working with Royals special assistant Rusty Kuntz, Loftin is already showing a preternatural ability to break on balls.
“Right now, we’re looking at what’s best for the major league club in the long run and what’s best for Nick Loftin,” Zumwalt said. “Center field is most likely going to be the ticket for him to get to the big leagues. Long term, (he) might be a better center fielder than a shortstop.”