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Are you rooting for Ramiro?


Are you rooting for Ramiro Pena to win the New York Yankees' utility infielder job this spring? I am.

Ever since it was announced that Alex Rodriguez would need hip surgery and would miss the first few weeks of the season I have assumed that spot would go to veteran journeyman Angel Berroa.

Maybe not.

The slick-fielding 23-year-old Pena has been getting noticed this spring, and it seems more and more apparent that he has a shot at opening the season with the Yankees.

The reports on Pena say his bat has always been the question. He hit .266 last season, and has impressed the Yankees by hitting .313 so far this spring.

We know Spring numbers are not always reliable, but the Yankees have liked what they have seen from Pena offensively.

''Spring training shows that he's not overmatched at the plate,'' said Mark Newman, who, as the Yankees' senior vice president of baseball operations, oversees player development. ''He's played very well, he's played consistently.

Here is one scout's take on Pena.

''If anything happened to Jeter, he could come up and play shortstop for a month now, because he's so good defensively,'' said one scout, who requested anonymity because he's not authorized to comment on players from other organizations. ''He was making plays defensively that were just blowing my mind. Plays up the middle, in the hole, slow-hit balls, just putting on a show.''

But the scout said Pena also looked comfortable at the plate for the first time in his career. He said the 5-11, 165-pound Pena appeared to get stronger as last season progressed. By season's end, he had turned into a line-drive hitter capable of reaching the gaps.

The most noticeable adjustment came in Pena's approach. He adopted a shorter stroke, which the scout took as a sign that Pena had learned to stay within himself.

''He knows what he is,'' said the scout, who believes Pena will eventually develop into a good enough hitter to stick as an everyday player.

I have heard enough. I want this kid on the bench instead of Berroa. The first thing you want from a utility guy is quality defense, and Berroa does not offer that. This kid does. If he develops into a guy who can do more than that, it's a bonus.