Cody Ponce Relishes Return To The Rotation
Cody Ponce must have made a strong impression in his limited time with the Pirates.
The 25-year-old righthander was acquired from the Brewers by former general manager Neal Huntington at the end of July for Jordan Lyles. He was added to the 40-man roster in November by new GM Ben Cherington, protecting him from the Rule 5 draft.
Ponce was hardly thinking about the potential roster move at the time. He was busy pitching for Team USA in the Premier12 tournament. He pitched well, throwing five shutout innings in the bronze medal game against Mexico. He threw five shutout innings earlier in the tournament against the Netherlands.
There’s no mystery why the Pirates added Ponce. He features a four-seam fastball that hits 95 mph. He pairs that with a cutter and a curveball, with the three-pitch combo leading to 70 strikeouts in 63 innings in a 2019 seasons spent primarily at Double-A.
The Brewers moved Ponce, a 2015 second-rounder out of Cal Poly, to the bullpen due in part to his injury history, including a forearm flexor strain in spring training. The Pirates liked him as a starter, where he has remained through his time with Team USA. He recovered from the forearm injury early in the year, but there were some side effects that didn’t get resolved until he returned to the rotation.
"I take the mindset that I used to have in college, when I went from a reliever to a starter,” Ponce said of his time with the Pirates. "Go out there every inning like it’s the ninth and try to shut it down. I kind of lost that mentality when I was with the Brewers, the injuries and everything.”
The move to the rotation has allowed Ponce to bring back his changeup, which he considers one of his best pitches from his college days. He dropped the pitch in his move to the bullpen, sticking more with a three-pitch mix in relief. How that pitch performs going forward could determine whether he can remain in the rotation.
A hard thrower with a shot at being a starter? It’s not a surprise the Pirates protected Ponce, and it won’t be a surprise if he ends up providing big league pitching depth in 2020.
— The Pirates protected five players from the Rule 5 draft in total. The group was headlined by the top position prospects in the system: third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes and shortstop Oneil Cruz. Fueled by an outstanding glove, Hayes is the third baseman of the future in Pittsburgh and should arrive at some point in 2020. The Pirates had been working Cruz as a shortstop under Huntington. He could arrive in the majors faster with a position change. He’d be better suited for right field due to his 6-foot-6 frame, plus arm and plus-plus power potential. The Pirates also protected 2016 first-round first baseman Will Craig, even though he is blocked in Pittsburgh by Josh Bell.
— Righthander Blake Cederlind was the final addition to the 40-man. He showed elite velocity this year, topping 100 mph frequently and getting as high as 102. Cederlind put up a dominant 1.77 ERA in 45 innings out of the Double-A bullpen this year. His control improved from previous years but still needs work. He also wasn’t dominant with the strikeouts in the upper levels, raising a potential need for a better secondary pitch.