School: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Selected 2015 stats
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (17): Daniel Poncedeleon was quite the lightning rod during the community vote last year. Several posters were questioning his physicals from the prior year. MagnoliaCardFan steered everyone Poncedeleon’s way with terms like projectability, extensive movement on his pitches, and dark horse candidate for a top prospect.
This year, there was much less discussion about where to put Poncedeleon. Blingboy said that he likes how Poncedeleon doesn’t give up many hits, but he is afraid guys will start centering it up in the upper levels. Scadder21 posted that he saw Poncedeleon pitch a few times and he looked pretty good. He said that Poncedeleon’s stuff is a lot better than expected for where St. Louis got him as ninth round pick with just a $5,000 bonus.
MagnoliaCardFan said that he likes how Poncedeleon pitched six shutout innings for State College in the championship game in 2014 and how he generates more groundouts than fly outs. - Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (23): Poncedeleon debuted last winter on TCN's top 40 with a 34th rank. This winter he jumped up TCN's rankings with his 22nd slot.
Coming off a 2014 season after which he was named The Cardinal Nation Minor League Rookie Starter of the Year, Poncedeleon was very successful in 2015 when healthy, pitching across two levels (Class-A Peoria and High-A Palm Beach). The right-hander's last start came on August 14th due to "shoulder soreness", according to Poncedeleon, who was shut down for the remainder of the season.
“I enjoyed my first full season. I was able to experience the freezing temperatures in Peoria and the hot summer of Florida," said Poncedeleon in early October. "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.”
Poncedeleon doesn't have ideal mechanics but throws four pitches for strikes that generate a wholesome amount of groundballs - a 92-94 four-seam fastball, power sinker, cutter, and slider that has late tilt. Scouts see him more as a reliever than a starter because of health concerns, but he has proven to get better at each level and has a long track record of success.
Throughout the season, Poncedeleon experienced differing results in his repertoire. Early in the season, he had a feel for his cutter, which led to high-strikeout games. As the season wore on, he developed a feel for his change and rode it until his promotion to Palm Beach. At Palm Beach, Poncedeleon leaned on his fastball more often -- a pitch that emerged as his go-to offering at the time.
I asked him which of his pitches need refinement and what his off-season goals are.
“I would like to refine my curveball; to throw it in any count. It is a good equalizer as it has lower velocity and greater vertical movement," he said. "The curveball was one of my best pitches while I was in State College. It helped me strike out a lot more hitters during my time there.
"This offseason I would like to keep putting on weight; to have some extra to lose during the season. Also, I would like to strengthen my body, so it is more resilient to injury. 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.”
Brian Walton (26): Last year at this time, Poncedeleon just registered on my personal top 40, coming in at 37.
The single biggest thing that affected my outlook since occurred on the first day I saw him pitch in minor league spring training camp. A young man who had been in the low 90s the year before, was consistently throwing 95-96. That was a real eye-opener for me.
Poncedeleon explained what was behind it. Not surprisingly, hard work was the key.
“Last year, I was down to 180 pounds toward the end of the minor league season because I came straight from college to pro baseball,” the pitcher said. “Losing weight and losing strength there. This off-season, I hit the weights real hard. All I did was work, hit the weights and run to get my body in shape. I did my throwing program right before I came out here.
“I lived in Daytona Beach in the off-season. The pitching coach there (at Embry-Riddle) really helped me out to develop everything and get me in a routine. That got my arm strength good. I feel it was always in there; we just had to get it out of me,” Poncedeleon said.
He continued his spring camp success right out of the gates with his Peoria introduction, as Poncedeleon was chosen as The Cardinal Nation’s Starting Pitcher of the Month for April after posting a 1.54 ERA over his first 30 days.
By the beginning of June, the now-23-year-old was named a Midwest League all-star, one of four Peoria players initially honored. At that point, he was 6-0 with a 1.51 ERA.
One month later, on July 2, Poncedeleon received the call to move up to A-Advanced Palm Beach. It was clearly justified as he had logged eight quality starts in 13 outings for the Chiefs. While his excellent results continued in the Florida State League, a look at his BABIP and FIP above signaled a potential correction may have been ahead.
Oliver Marmol managed the California coach’s son in both of his professional seasons to date - at State College in 2014 and again at Palm Beach to close 2015.
“He did a really nice job,” Marmol said. “What a competitor! This guy knows what it means to compete. He lives for it. He likes taking the ball. He likes tough situations. It is really fun when you get a guy with his kind of stuff in combination with his mindset. He is a super competitor with electric stuff, put away stuff.”
Though Poncedeleon’s early exit meant he could not pitch for Marmol in the playoffs again, the manager sees the move to park him after 119 innings pitched as beneficial for the pitcher’s development.
“It is good for him to have some rest - to have this off-season to get ready to go,” Marmol said.
Concerns about Poncedeleon’s medicals were noted above. I asked him about his failed 2013 physical, which voided his contract with the Cubs and forced him to move from the NCAA to the NAIA.
“They took certain MRIs of my shoulder and said they didn’t like what they saw,” the pitcher said. “They told me it was with the right ulnar nerve. So they failed the physical for that reason.
“That kept me from returning to (the University of) Houston because I signed a term paper with the Cubs scout, agreeing to terms and signing the contract. That got me into trouble with the NCAA and they deemed me a professional and ineligible. So I lost my amateur status for that reason – for signing the term paper.
“NAIA has different rules, so thank God, they allowed me to go over there (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University) and play,” Poncedeleon said.
The key point is that medical issue was apparently put to bed before he signed with St. Louis.
“I did eventually get the nerve surgery just so that would not complicate it with any other teams,” the pitcher said.
I would imagine that his shoulder, along with spring results and opportunity, will all come into play to determine Poncedeleon’s opening assignment for 2016. After just six starts at Palm Beach, a return there to start the season before a Springfield promotion should not be considered a disappointment.
Our 2016 top 40 series continues: To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 40 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of the latter are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.
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