If you haven’t heard the name Zay Pena, it’s time to get familiar.
The University City High School senior is batting .484, with 31 hits and 23 RBI as a star shortstop and third baseman for the school’s baseball team, according to MaxPreps. And Pena’s hard work isn’t going unnoticed. The 18-year-old is being recruited by various collegiate teams, including national champion Oregon State, as well as one of the top Division II schools, Colorado Mesa.
He is also being scouted by the pros — and could potentially be an MLB draft pick this year.
The road to developing his talent, however, wasn’t the easiest for Pena. As a freshman, he started at Cathedral Catholic High School, known for its great baseball program that has produced players like 2014 first overall MLB draft pick Brady Aiken. But things didn’t work out, and he was cut from the team.
Then, thanks to a relationship with head coach Chad Starkey, he transferred to Mission Bay High School. In 2017, there was a coaching change, and Dennis Pugh took over. They worked well together (and even still talks to this day), but in his junior year, Pena struggled to find his place within the student environment on campus and decided to transfer to University City. There, he finally seems to have found his groove — and his favorite number.
On the back of his jersey, Pena wears number 19 as a reminder to stay inspired.
“I wear number 19 for Tony Gwynn because I would love to play at San Diego State,” said Pena. “I went to one of his camps at Padres Park when I was little, and he’s just always inspired me.”
He is also graduating from UC in 2019 — another great reason to be wearing number 19 — and will have tougher decisions to make than just which collegiate team he wants to play for. Not only is he a star baseball player, but he also dominates on the football field, as he has an offer to play for San Diego State.
Still, his focus on baseball hasn’t wavered. Pena has a personal trainer, Larry Parker, who helps him work on various skills like speed, agility, and lifting weights.
“I usually hit off the tee at my house for 30 minutes a day, as most as I can,” said Pena. “As soon as I get home, I’ll come and hit, or I’ll hit up my travel ball coach, and he’ll usually get my swing right.”
He also works with a few other baseball coaches, who give him pieces of advice to help his game. His dad also helps him with grounding on the weekends, so that he becomes strong defensively in the field.
“I feel like when I go and hit with other coaches, I’ll pick up one different thing from that coach,” said Pena. “They’ll help me develop into raw talent, and use whatever they’ve given me so that I can turn it into my own thing.”
While playing college baseball is important to Pena, it’s more than just about the sport for him.
“You obviously want to get your education,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to miss out on my education, my mom is big on [me getting my] education.”
Some high round picks decide to immediately go pro because they want to reach success as quickly as possible, even though they may not be ready, which is why college baseball could be beneficial.
“If you wait [to go pro], you can develop your skills, prove yourself, and show out at the next level,” he said.
Check out Pena and the University City baseball team at their next home game against La Jolla High School at 3:30 on May 2. For more information, visit sandiegounified.org/schools/university-city.