It used to be that the process of selecting The Cardinal Nation’s Rookie Starting Pitcher of the Year began and ended with the list of hurlers selected by the St. Louis Cardinals organization in early rounds of the June First-Year Player Draft.
That has changed in recent years, as the organization has implemented what I call “The Wacha Plan”. With college arms having thrown a lot of spring innings, with a rest period in between before signing and reporting, the Cardinals have closely managed workload for many of their first-year arms.
As a result, by using our standard minimum innings-pitched floor of 30 means that top picks like collegians Luke Weaver and Andrew Morales as well as a high-ceiling high schooler like Jack Flaherty do not qualify.
Though the criteria does not seem all that stringent, only eight first-year starting pitchers are among the contenders. The distribution by level indicates a reverse bell curve, with three each at the highest and lowest short-season levels - State College and the Dominican Summer League. In between, Johnson City and the Gulf Coast League Cardinals have just one representative each.
Here they are, listed by ERA, lowest to highest.
Half the list, four, came in with ERAs under 3.00. They are our semi-finalists.
Though Austin Gomber, the Cards’ fourth-rounder this June from Florida Atlantic University, posted the lowest ERA, his peripherals are not competitive. The State College lefty came on strongly near the end of the season, but overall, he allowed the most baserunners by a considerable margin and his strikeout to walk ratio of 2:1 is worst among this select group.
Oneiver Diaz, who pitched the entire DSL season at the age of 17, had a very solid rookie year. However, the right-hander made just five starts in a tandem arrangement and missed time due to injury, which limited him to just 37 innings.
At first blush, one might disqualify Trey Nielsen of State College. After all, the right-hander was selected in the 30th round in the 2013 draft. However, the position player convert missed his entire first professional summer due to injury.
In his pro debut with the Spikes, Nielsen was very good, striking out just under one per inning and yielding only one walk for every four whiffs. The former Utah standout logged a 2.50 ERA, but made just eight starts against seven relief appearances. After being moved into the rotation, he went 0-2, 3.03 – still good, but not enough to win.
That leaves our selection as The Cardinal Nation’s Rookie Starting Pitcher of the Year, Daniel Poncedeleon. The 22-year-old right-hander finished the regular season with a 2.44 ERA in 12 appearances, including 10 starts. The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder fanned 52 and issued just 14 free passes in 44 1/3 regular-season frames. With increased familiarity with what professional pitching entails, Poncedeleon came on strongly in August with a 1.88 ERA in five starts.
To top the year off, though not included in the above numbers, the Californian made two strong starts for the Spikes on their way to the New York-Penn League title. Poncedeleon allowed just one earned run in 11 innings, with 11 strikeouts against three walks.
The Cardinals’ ninth-round selection this June has an interesting back story as a true baseball vagabond. Poncedeleon attended four colleges in four years and was drafted four times. After being taken by the Cubs in 2013’s 14th-round, he came to terms with the organization, only to have it scuttled by a failed physical. That required him to transfer to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, from where the Cards scooped him up.
Congratulations to TCN’s Rookie Starting Pitcher of the Year for the Cardinals system in 2014, Daniel Poncedeleon.
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Link to master article with all 2014 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. That will include our selection as the system-wide rookie Player of the Year, coming this weekend.
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