St. Louis Cardinals right-handed pitching prospect Daniel Poncedeleon has perhaps the most unique background in the organization, having played for four different college programs while also being drafted four different times by major-league organizations, including the Cardinals as the fourth and final suitor.
After his selection in the ninth round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, Poncedeleon became The Cardinal Nation’s Minor League Rookie Starter of the Year after his strong showing with the State College Spikes to kick off his professional career. Following that, Poncedeleon was very successful in 2015 when healthy, pitching across two levels (Class-A Peoria and High-A Palm Beach).
The right-hander was a mid-season all-star for the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League. In 76 2/3 over 13 starts including one complete game, Poncedeleon held a 2.47 ERA with 22 walks and 62 strikeouts. His heavy sinking low 90s fastball generated an excellent 2.04 groundout-to-air out ratio for Peoria.
Thanks to that strong first half performance, Poncedeleon earned a mid-season promotion to Palm Beach, where he made six starts in seven appearances. Poncedeleon found better control at the more advanced level – his 0.87 WHIP was significantly better than his 1.23 mark for Peoria but also in less action. In the Florida State League, he tossed 42 1/3 innings, allowing seven earned runs on 29 hits for a 1.49 ERA.
In the one-on-one interview below, Poncedeleon talks about his background, his first full season, which is now in the rearview mirror, and much more.
Derek Shore: You come from a very interesting background, attending four schools in college while being drafted four different times. Did you ever think your window of opportunity at the next level closed after each draft?
Daniel Poncedeleon: “I didn't feel that my window of opportunity was closing after each draft because I knew I had the talent to play at the next level. But I knew I had less time and less leeway for errors since I am older. But I don't regret any decision I have made because I would not be the type of player I am without experiencing the different colleges and environments.”
DS: Before drafting you, the Cardinals were said to have followed you for years. What had you heard about the Cardinals prior to being taken?
DP: “I honestly had not talked to the Cardinals much prior to the 2014 season. But during that season, I was almost positive Charlie (Gonzalez, Cardinals area scout who had followed Poncedeleon extensively) was going to take me in the draft. He called me more than my father.”
DS: You've officially completed your first full season. How would you summarize your journey through Peoria and Palm Beach?
DP: “I really enjoyed my first full season. I was able to experience the freezing temperatures in Peoria and the hot summer of Florida. I got to learn how to maintain my body during the long season and got to experience the excitement of moving up a level to a new team. I am disappointed for not being able to finish the year and pitch in the playoffs because that is what it is all about. But I am happy with the way the season went.”
DS: You were a 2015 midseason all-star for Peoria Chiefs and ended the year at Palm Beach with a handful of starts. Were there any adjustments for you between those two levels?
DP: “I didn't really adjust much. The major thing I noticed was the hitters had better plate presence and took better pitches. So I pitched to contact a bit more than Peoria instead of trying to strike out every batter.”
DS: It was a smaller number of starts at Palm Beach, but your WHIP (walks and hits per inning) was actually lower there whereas the amount of ground balls you induced were higher in Peoria. Was that because of approach or Florida climate affecting your movement?
DP: “I would say my approach was a little different in Palm Beach. Like I said previously, I tried to pitch to contact more and eat up more innings per start while in Palm Beach. Whereas in Peoria, I tried striking out a lot of guys in the beginning of the season. My pitch count per game in Palm Beach was significantly lower than in Peoria due to the two different approaches.”
DS: How was it like throwing to a Rawlings Gold Glove catcher in Carson Kelly to finish out the year?
DP: “Couldn't ask for more. There's nothing better than having a big target behind the plate that competes every day and wants to win just as much as I do. One of my favorite things about him is that we were always on the same page and I rarely shook him off. That is just added confidence while pitching and it helps the tempo of the game.”
DS: Unfortunately your results were cut short by shoulder soreness. What pitches did you feel came on strong for you in 2015?
DP: “Early in the year my cutter was deadly. I was having higher strikeout games because I had a lot of swing and misses with that pitch. During the middle of the year, I lost some feel for the cutter and my curveball was pretty much absent so I developed feel for my change-up during that time.
“And the change-up turned out to be my second best pitch during some starts, which is surprising for me because that is a pitch where I would throw it maybe twice a game. Then towards the end of the season, my fastball was definitely my best pitch. I started to hit a stride in Palm Beach where my velo every start was up and my ball had great movement. I would have a lot of innings with 10 pitches or less and only throw fastballs during them.”
DS: What offerings do you think need the most refinement in your repertoire?
DP: “I would really like to refine my curveball so I am able to throw it in any count. It is a good equalizer pitch for me since it has a lower velocity and greater vertical movement. The curveball was one of my best pitches while I was in State College and it helped me strike out a lot more hitters during that time.”
DS: Are there any goals or expectations you've set for this offseason and spring training?
DP: “This off season I would like to keep putting on weight so I have some extra to lose during the season. Also, would like to strengthen my body so it is more resilient to injury and not have what I had this year. On another note, I am spending this offseason at home for the first time and would like to enjoy time with my family since I see them very few weeks out of the year.”
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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