The adage, ‘Baseball is 90% mental and 10% physical,’ rings true for Springfield Cardinals right-handed starter Daniel Poncedeleon, who is a month from completing his first summer through mentally gruelling Texas League.
"There's some things in kids you just can't teach," said second-year pitching Jason Simontacchi about Poncedeleon in a recent exclusive interview.
"He has those attributes," Simontacchi concluded.
As his pitching coach once did, Poncedeleon sports the old-school style high socks. Despite spending the year fine-tuning his mental approach, his second full season has culminated into a relatively consistent year, including his second consecutive mid-season all-star appearance.
With the calendar having flipped to August, the deceptive right-hander has a 7-6 record with 3.56 ERA through 21 starts on the season. He has struck out 97 and issued 42 walks in 116 1/3 innings pitched against Texas League foes.
The Cardinal Nation’s #22 prospect had somewhat shaky July (4.78 ERA, six starts) skewed by five home runs. On the other hand, his WHIP (1.19) was actually slightly lower than his June mark, though he posted a season-best 1.91 ERA (five starts) in the latter month.
When we caught up with him during that earlier stretch, Simontacchi was pleased with his student’s progress.
"I think it got to a point where he is starting to work ahead (in counts)," the coach said. "He is getting more familiar with his curveball. He has been able to throw that consistently, but mainly to just get his feet wet. He has taken to paying more attention to his body - being in tune with his delivery and tried to be consistent with that.
"There is a lot of stuff moving, so the timing is not perfect with the consistency, but he seems to be doing a good job with that a lot lately."
In the exclusive interview that follows, Poncedeleon discusses how he has adapted to the Texas League, the quality of competition, how he can remain consistent with his delivery, and concludes talking about progress of his repertoire.
Derek Shore: First of all, you completed your first full season between Peoria and Palm Beach last year. How do you look back on 2015?
Daniel Poncedeleon: "2015 was a pretty good year for me. I felt strong the whole year. The only disappointment I had was there at the end when they shut me down (with shoulder soreness)."
DS: With a month left in the season, how do you feel you have adapted to the Texas League?
DP: "I feel that these guys you see a hundred times now because you are facing the same teams. You've got to be able to throw your off-speed in different counts and mix up your stuff against different batters. Then just stay healthy."
DS: Typically as you advance, the hitters get more disciplined. Has that been more of the case this season? If so, what has changed in your approach compared to the past?
DP: "I would say the lower levels they have those one or two good hitters that would be in Double-A, but in Double-A almost every hitter is a good hitter on a lower level roster. You are competing through the whole lineup, and they do have a little more plate discipline than usual."
DS: You told me last October you wanted to be more resilient to injury and you have been consistent for the most part this season. Obviously August will be the real test, but do you feel you have achieved that so far?
DP: "My body has felt a lot better than last year. I don't feel as tired. I feel ready to go every five days."
DS: Simo talked about you having a lot of moving parts in your delivery, but when everything is in sync you are on, but with the moving parts you tend to lose your command at times. What have you been working on to find that consistency?
DP: "Just try to get everything going towards home plate rather than pulling off because I will kind of rip my shoulder wide open and then everything starts leaking out away or I yank them over. I got to be able to go towards home plate and get everything going at home.
"Whenever I get everything in sync, I'm pretty good."
DS: How have each of your pitches progressed so far?
DP: "They have progressed and regressed throughout the year. I'm just trying to stick with it and find some consistency in them. I'm happy the way my curveball has improved from last year to this year and hence the strikeouts are a bit higher than they were last year. My cutter has always been there for me. It is one of my best pitches."
DS: From the naked eye, it looks like you throw two different breaking balls, but really that is just a cutter?
DP: "Yeah, that is just a cutter. It is the upper 80s - low 90s, so it is a fastball that cuts sideways. Then I have a curveball that goes straight down with a lot more depth to it."
DS: "What pitches have taken the biggest step this season?
DP: "From last season, I would say my curveball because last year I was mainly fastball and cutter (guy) while getting most hitters out with changeup here and there. I would say my changeup has also greatly improved. I have thrown that a lot more this year than last year, so those are the pitches that have gained ground.
"My cutter has been pretty consistent."
DS: You mentioned a promotion as one of your goals last month. What could you improve on to reach Triple-A?
DP: "I feel if I can command the strike zone - cut back on the walks a bit and keep the strikeouts up. I think that I would be able to get that promotion.”
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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