Good first impression for Pena Jr.

Good first impression for Pena Jr.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It did not take long for Tony Pena Jr. to make a good first impression with his new Royals teammates.

Pena made a diving stop of Rickie Weeks' sharp grounder to lead off the game on Sunday. Pena scrambled to his feet and threw out the speedy Weeks, robbing him of a base hit.

Pena was making his Royals debut after being acquired in a trade with the Braves on Friday. Pena was out of options, so it was no secret Atlanta had him on the trading block.

"I knew there was something that was going to happen," Pena said. "I didn't know where I was going to end up. I had no idea of anything. I was just trying to stay away from all of that. I didn't want to put anything in my head. I was happy and sad in a way. I had a lot of friends with the Braves. I was with them for eight years. I'm very happy to be over here now and getting a chance to play every day."

Pena spent summers traveling with his dad, Tony Pena Sr., who caught several years in the Major Leagues and managed the Royals for parts for four seasons. That gave Tony Jr. a chance to watch and be tutored by two of the best fielding shortstops in the past 25 years -- Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel.

"When I was growing up as a little kid, I would always see Ozzie Smith making all those amazing plays," Pena Jr. said. "When my dad went to Cleveland, I would see Omar Vizquel and was always looking at him catching ground balls and seeing the things he would do. I would try to be like him, and he would tell me all these little things. There was also Ozzie Guillen. I had some good teachers."

Much better tutors, for sure, than any high school or Little League coach, but there were some downfalls.

"It was good in a way and bad in another way," he said. "I was around big-league players that taught me a lot of little things and being around the game. It hurt me in a way that I didn't play that much ball. I never saw live pitching. I was just practicing. Until I signed, I didn't start playing baseball against live pitching."

After 40 games in the Majors and nearly seven years in the Minors, Pena's bat is improving. He hit .282 last season with Triple-A Richmond.

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"It's starting to come around," Pena said. "I've got more at-bats, more experience. The No. 1 thing of hitting is just getting quality at-bats and just starting to feel comfortable every time."

Defense, however, remains Pena's strong suit, although he did commit a throwing error in the fifth.

Royals pitcher Kenny Ray played with Pena Jr. last season with Atlanta and 2005 with Richmond.

"He's as good as everybody says he is," Ray said. "I've seen it first-hand. Defensively, he's one of the best shortstops I've played with. Defensively, he will help the team for sure. He's got ridiculous range and a great arm. He makes tough plays look routine, for the most part, and he makes all the routine plays.

"For me, he made a couple of plays to his left in the hole, which is tough for pitchers like me who fall off to the left side a little bit. Ground balls over the pitcher's mound I can't get to. When you throw the ball and it gets by you, you're automatically thinking base hit, and you look back and he's gloving it.

"Offensively, he's got a lot better the last couple of years. People think it is all about defense with him, but he can swing it also."

Alan Eskew is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.