On Tuesday, the slick-fielding shortstop from Providence, Rhode Island, took the next step in following his father’s footsteps.
Pena, who was a junior this past season, was picked in the third round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft by the Houston Astros. The 6-foot, 179-pounder was the 102nd chosen overall.
Later on Tuesday, Black Bears catcher Chris Bec also was taken in the draft. Bec was a fifth-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays, going 146th overall. Bec was a senior.
“This is a dream come true. I can’t describe the feeling right now,” said Pena. “This is what I’ve been working for. This is another step in reaching my goal. I’m very excited.”
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Bec was equally elated.
“This is all I could ask for. “I’m happy to have this opportunity to move on to the next level. This is what I have worked for since I was little. It is not only a dream come true for me but also for my mother and my family. My family made a lot of sacrifices for me. I thank God for this opportunity.”
The selection makes Pena the third-highest draft choice in the history of the UMaine program. Only South Portland native Billy Swift, who was drafted No. 2 overall in 1984, and Larry Thomas (69th, Chicago White Sox, 1991) went higher.
Pena is the highest selection among everyday players as Swift and Thomas were both pitchers.
With Bec going two rounds later, it is the first time in UMaine history that the program has produced two players selected in the top five rounds in the same draft.
The MLB.com Draft Tracker estimated that the pick value for Pena is approximately $549,700 and Bec at $357,500.
This season, Pena was an All-America East and All-New England second-team selection for coach Nick Derba. He batted .308 with 66 hits and 51 runs scored to go with a .393 on-base percentage, all of which ranked second on the team.
Pena led UMaine with five triples and belted five home runs with 28 runs batted in and 14 doubles in 54 games and was the only Black Bear to start every game this season. He registered 19 multi-hit games and stole 10 bases in 11 attempts.
In the field, Pena posted a .957 fielding percentage with 11 errors in 258 chances. He helped turn 26 double plays.
He was chosen to the America East All-Rookie team as a freshman.
Bec led the team in hitting and stolen bases for the second straight year as he hit .315 with 16 stolen bases in 21 attempts. He was second on the team in homers with eight and slugging percentage at .539.
Bec was a first team All-America East choice, a third team All-New England selection and was chosen to the America East all-tourney team after hitting .412 in the four games with two triples and two doubles.
Bec made four errors in 271 chances for a .985 fielding percentage.
Bec was a second team All-America East pick two years ago when he hit .340 with 15 stolen bases in 21 attempts.
Derba said it has been “a really big day for us” and he wasn’t surprised Pena was selected as high as he was.
“Jeremy is a very special player. We’re going to see him playing on TV [as a major leaguer]. He’s going to play for a very long time,” said Derba, who reached the Triple-A level as a catcher in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
Earlier this year, Derba called Pena “the best defensive shortstop in the country. I played with nine major league shortstops and he’s as good as any of them.”
Derba said on Tuesday that Pena has “always been able to make spectacular plays and he has gotten way better at making the routine plays. He has learned his angles. It comes with experience.”
Derba said Bec has the “right temperament” for professional baseball and is an exceptional hitter who is extremely versatile.
Bec, who is from Miami, has only been a full-time catcher for two seasons, his two years at UMaine.
He verbally committed to be a shortstop at the University of Tennessee but that fell through so he wound up going to Miami Dade College for two seasons where he played the outfield and also caught a handful of games.
“He played probably 100 games and caught 15 of them,” said Derba, who decided to make Bec a catcher after watching him field ground balls.
“After seeing that, I knew he could do it,” said Derba who explained that the mechanics, like hip movement, are similar between fielding a ground ball and catching a pitch.
Derba said the fact Bec can also play the infield and the outfield well which will add significantly to his value.
“But I can’t play first base,” chuckled Bec who added that he would be willing to play wherever the Blue Jays want him to play.
Pena and Bec both said there time spent at UMaine paved the way for their getting drafted.
UMaine has a solid major league draft history.
Outfielder Mark Sweeney was a ninth-round pick of the California Angels in 1991 and pitcher Jeff Gibbs went in the ninth round to Arizona in 2012. Outfielder Taylor Lewis was taken in the 10th round to Pittsburgh in 2011 and Portland outfielder Simon Williams was selected in the 11th round of the 2001 draft by St. Louis, but did not sign.
UMaine’s recent pros include pitcher Tommy Lawrence, a free-agent signee with Tampa Bay in 2014; catcher/pitcher Mike Connolly, a 27th-round pick of San Francisco in 2013; shortstop Mike Fransoso (27th round, Pittsburgh, 2013); and pitcher Steve Perakslis (21st round, Chicago Cubs, 2012).
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