PASCO, Wash. — Jason Pineda, 19, is one of the rare players from New York City in a sport that is dominated by the baseball rich environments of California, Florida, and Texas. While his Monroe High School team from the Bronx played regularly against the school Manny Ramirez famously attended, the list of elite players from the shadows of Yankee Stadium is short.
Pineda, who showed good raw power despite being one of the youngest players in his draft class nationally, attracted scouts’ attention heading into his senior season. While some clubs bypassed him because he was so raw and had a commitment to the University of Michigan, Padres’ area scout John Stewart saw an opportunity to get a talented hitter. The Padres offered Pineda a full-value day three signing bonus of $125,000 and were able to convince him to sign.
The right-handed slugger’s progress as a professional has been slow, but that was to be expected. With the luxury of a system built to coax the most out of young international talents with limited in-game exposure, the Padres have been willing to take a risk on some non-traditional development projects. As a result, Pineda is one of several players – including fellow 2017 draftee and 2019 Dust Devil Jonny Homza – drafted out of high school or junior college the organization is willing to invest multiple years in short-season ball and the complex to develop.
AZL statistics are not especially telling to evaluate young, developing players, but Pineda’s did show improvement in 2018 as he honed his batting eye and pitch selection. He also showed some of the highest exit velocity on batted balls among Padres at the Peoria Sports Complex.
While he continued to strike out too often in his first taste of the Northwest League, away from the homer-suppressing environment of Gesa Stadium this season, Pineda hit a respectable .253/.330/.349. While Pineda has plus power, the trick is to get to it. The Padres believe that three years of professional baseball, has given both the player and team the best opportunity to convert the raw ability into success at the game’s highest level.
When we were in Pasco we caught up with Jason to talk about why he decided to get an early jump on his pro career.
MadFriars: What was it like growing up playing baseball in New York City?
Jason Pineda: Being from New York everything is a grind and everything is a hustle. Everybody has a different mindset and a goal. Mine was baseball. Growing up in the city was fun, but it was also a tough environment.
You have family in the Dominican Republic. So were you raised in both places?
Jason Pineda: No, I was born and raised in New York. Both my parents are from the Dominican.
You had a ride to go to the University of Michigan to play baseball. What was your thought process about going pro instead of playing a few years in college and trying to get selected higher?
Jason Pineda: My dream has always been to play professional baseball so when I got my chance I took it. Also, with the way contracts are set up I can always go back to college and it’s paid for.
Playing professional baseball in the heat of the AZL is brutal. How do you think playing in that environment made you a better player than three years in the Big Ten?
Jason Pineda: I’m pretty sure that there are some differences and advantages of playing professional baseball compared to the Big Ten, but playing in the AZL helped me grow as a person as much as it did with baseball.
In the AZL you had some of the highest exit velocity on contact. What was the biggest part of your game that improved in the past few years?
Jason Pineda: I think it’s staying over the baseball at home plate and I got better defensively. As you said exit velocity was big and I think that showed I was making good contact.
How big are you?
Jason Pineda: I am 6-foot-2, 240-pounds.
You play both first and third base. Which position do you like more?
Jason Pineda: I feel good at both positions, and I’m a first baseman now, but I always enjoyed playing third and throwing people out. What I like the most is helping the team out and being in the lineup.
What is the biggest thing you are trying to improve upon this year that you want to take into the offseason?
Jason Pineda: The biggest thing is my mobility and getting into better shape. On the field staying over the baseball and hitting off-speed pitches better.
My general approach is I am always attacking fastballs and making the adjustment to the off-speed pitches. It’s something I need to work on and I will get better at it.