SANTO DOMINGO -- Brayan Pena's trademark off the field may very well be his perpetual smile. After an excellent Winter League campaign in the Dominican Republic with the Gigantes del Cibao, the Cuban catcher now has more reasons to feel good between the white lines.
Pena, 27, hopes to make the Kansas City Royals' roster out of Spring Training. It won't be an easy task considering he will be competing with John Buck and Miguel Olivo.
Pena, nonetheless, appears ready for the challenge.
"I feel that I'm in shape, in great condition," he said during the final series between his Gigantes and the Tigres del Licey in Santo Domingo's Estadio Quisqueya. "I accomplished my goals here offensively."
Indeed, Pena played a key role for the Gigantes, who finished in first place during the Dominican League's regular season and eventually lost the championship series to Licey. He hit eight home runs and led the team with 38 RBIs in 42 games and 164 at-bats, with an impressive .341 average.
Mission accomplished in the Caribbean. Now, on to Arizona to compete for a job in the big leagues.
"I think I've got a good shot," said the former Braves catcher. "[Royals manager Trey] Hillman likes my work ethic. I've also had contact with [general manager] Dayton Moore and [assistant general manager] J.J. Piccolo. They protected me on the roster. I am grateful for that and now I want to reward them for trusting me."
Behind the plate, Pena tries not to pigeon-hole himself, aspiring to be a complete catcher.
"I don't specialize in anything. I try to do everything -- call a good game, block the ball and throw well to the bases," said the veteran of four Major League seasons. "Tony Pena Sr. taught me that, the importance of finding balance."
When it comes to hitting, Pena is aware that there is room for improvement. "I definitely want to strike out less and draw more walks," said Pena, a .228 career hitter in the Major Leagues. "It's true that I've been a free swinger in the past and I want to change that."
Since he was claimed on waivers during the 2008 season, Pena has maintained a .300 average, finishing at .303 in 234 at-bats with Triple-A Omaha in the Royals' system prior to his solid 2008-09 campaign in the Dominican.
With that success under his belt, Pena looks forward to Spring Training with confidence. "I really don't want to disappoint Dayton or Hillman. I want to use this opportunity to make it in Kansas City, to represent the city and its fans."
David Venn is the senior editor of LasMayores.com, MLB.com's Spanish Web site. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.