Pena, 29 years of age, was originally a member of the Pirates organization, having been signed as a non-drafted free-agent outfielder in 1994 at the age of 17. Pena progressed as far as Double-A, making the Bucs' 40-man roster, before becoming a six-year minor league free agent following the 2001 season.
Pena's 98-MPH fastball was once called the best in the Pirates' organization, yet he never received a second chance. The 6-foot-2, 215 pound right-hander has pitched in independent ball the past four seasons, including the last two years with the Worcester Tornadoes of the CanAm League.
Over the last two seasons with the Tornadoes, the Dominican Republic native posted an 11-7 record with a 3.26 ERA, primarily as a starter. In 201-1/3 innings, Pena struck out 167, but also walked 85. He was assigned to Memphis.
Hirsh, 22, was originally signed by the Houston Astros in the 30th round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft after his junior year at Cal Lutheran. The 6-foot-5 230 pound right-hander posted a 1-2 record with a 5.61 ERA as a swingman for Greeneville, TN in the Appalachian League in his first professional season.
The Astros assigned Hirsh to Extended Spring Training in 2006, but he was released on May 29. As he looked for another pro contract, Hirsh went on to play this summer among other places for the Tinseltown Terror, a semi-pro club in his native California.
Hirsh, the younger brother of Astros pitcher Jason Hirsh, signed with the Cardinals on August 24. He has been assigned to Quad Cities.
We'll have more on Hirsh in an upcoming report.
The six released players are all Venezuelans between the ages of 20 and 22 years of age. They include catcher Ciro Caldera, left-handed pitcher Frank Oliveros, outfielders Nelson Lugo and Yonathan Sivira and right-handed pitchers Oscar Lara and Henderson Lugo.
With the number of visas available for foreign players limited and the Cardinals Dominican and Venezuelan academies cranking out more talent than ever before, I asked John Vuch, Cardinals Manager of Baseball Operations if this was a factor in these players being released.
Vuch dismissed part of the question by saying, "The released players were not due to the visa restrictions." However, the factor of increased competition is always there, no matter the nationality. That is what did these six in, according to Vuch. "These are just guys who were not able to compete effectively at Johnson City. And, they didn't project to improve significantly."
Of the six, perhaps the most recognizible name is Sivira, but for the wrong reason. He was suspended 50 games this past season as the result of a first positive test for banned substances.
The outfielder initially signed with the Cardinals before the 2002 season, when he played in the Venezuelan Summer League. The next season, he was on the Dominican Summer League (DSL) squad before hitting a very respectable .292/.329/.453 (BA/OBP/SLG) for Johnson City in 2004.
Sivira moved up to New Jersey of the New York-Penn League in 2005, where he dropped to .253/.310/.342. Spending most of the season back at the same level with State College in 2006, Sivira plummeted to .213/.261/.284, hence his release.
The 20-year-old catcher was signed in August, 2004 and played on the Cards' DSL team in 2005, where he hit .264. However, in 80 at-bats with Johnson City, he managed just three extra-base hits with a line of .250/.294/.288.
Oliveros was signed a year ago April and posted a 4.17 ERA in the DSL last season. The 20-year-old lefty allowed a run per inning in 14 outings with Johnson City. Opposing hitters teed off at a .328 clip against him. He also walked ten in 14 innings.
The 21-year-old outfielder first signed with the Cards in August, 2004. He hit .263 in the 2005 DSL and was assigned to Johnson City this season. Lugo had only six extra-base hits in 125 at-bats, with a line of .240/.322/.312.
The right-handed pitcher became a Cardinal last April and posted a nice 1.38 in the DSL, but walked more batters than he struck out. The unflattering ratio continued for the 22-year-old this season, as he posted a 3.91 ERA out of the Johnson City pen, but walked 15 in 25-1/3 innings, while striking out 13.
The 22-year-old right-handed pitcher joined the organization last February and had a very promising debut in the DSL. He went 6-3 with a 1.77 ERA, striking out 78 and walking just 16 in 71 innings. Working primarily in relief for Johnson City, Lugo posted a 3.50 ERA in 43-2/3 innings. He walked just 11 and fanned 37, making this release perhaps the most surprising of the group.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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