Cody Ponce, RHP Cal Poly Pomona
Ponce popped up on the Cape last summer throwing 96 miles an hour with some projection to his secondaries, quickly establishing himself as one of the top Division II prospects in this draft class. He was slowed this spring by a sore shoulder that knocked him out for three weeks, but returned to the mound for his second tilt since the injury in the senior game of a double-header Saturday against visiting Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Ponce has an imposing, ideal workhorse frame at every bit of his listed 6’5" 235, with broad shoulders and a high, thick backside. The mustache is fringe-average, but he’s loose physically and shows solid if slightly unbridled athleticism. There’s strong momentum in his windup thanks to an aggressive step-back and a higher-than-average leg kick. He maintains his posture well through a shallow takeaway, generating an arm action that is short and direct to a three-quarter slot that occasionally dipped lower.
He didn’t get a clean push off the rubber at all in this start, however, as his back foot consistently dragged and bounced up off the dirt at different trajectories right after his front foot strike. It’s an inefficiency of motion that threw his center of gravity off and created balance problems through his point of release and finish. He was consistently inconsistent in getting over his front side as a result, often failing to get over his plant leg entirely and spinning off to the third base side.
The weak front side left him bearing a lot of the force of his delivery on his front knee and quad, and he ended up depending on his back and arm to generate most of his release point extension, which in turn limited his ability to fully utilize his length and create consistent downward plane. It could very well be that these tendencies were exaggerated in this start in order to try and protect his recent injury, and in going back through older videos it does appear that while the while something of a lazy back foot does appear to be a mechanical component of the delivery it was more pervasive on Saturday.
The extracurricular movement affected the finish on his pitches, particularly his command to the glove side, which came and went in this start. The arsenal itself is quite good, with an above-average to plus present fastball at the heart of it. He showed easy plus-to-better velocity at 92-94 throughout this start and touched 95 with a couple, showing a willingness to work both sides of the plate. He only coaxed a couple swings and misses with the pitch, but it gets some decent arm-side run and generated plenty of off-center contact in addition to freezing batters on multiple occasions. The present command was loose enough in this start that, coupled with some concern about repeatability in his delivery, left me questioning if it’ll ultimately play to a true plus pitch. The velocity and movement components are certainly there for that outcome, however, so a cleaned up delivery could easily unlock it as a 60-grade offering.
He showed a second pitch with plus projection in his cutter at 87-89. There was some question among scouts I talked with as to whether the pitch is actually a slider or a cutter – according to him it’s a cutter – but it’s a nice companion piece that helps his fastball play up. A tight breaker with late, subtle movement, it doesn’t present as a swing-and-miss offering but does appear very difficult to differentiate and square.
His change-up featured consistent arm action and solid separation at 79-80, and he induced some swing-and-miss with the pitch. He didn’t throw it enough to offer clear projection, but the ones he did throw showed solid tumble and some deception. Between the cut and change he has the makings of an effective combination to neutralize opposite-handed hitting.
The curve was not as big a part of his arsenal in this start as previous reports indicate, and he struggled for feel both in his bullpen and in game. The pitch flashes 11-to-5 movement with depth, but he got on the side of several and left them hanging, including one on an 0-2 pitch he tried to bury. Given arm slot and apparent rotation when it’s thrown correctly the pitch intrigues, but it was not as effective on this particular day.
From the stretch I had him from 1.37 to 1.53 home, with an average in the mid-1.4’s, and he held his velocity without issue. He shows quick feet and accuracy on his pick-off attempts, and he nailed a runner with a modest lead among several close plays. The move is a borderline balk, as he’ll hop a bit with his front foot at first move in something of a three-step pivot to wheel, but he got away with it repeatedly under full scrutiny from the first base umpire in this contest.
The scrutiny was an important theme of this start, as he got into it repeatedly with the same umpire for going to his mouth on the rubber. He was warned several times about the action but continued to do it, slowing the game down as balls were taken out of play and knocking himself out of rhythm with men on base in the third inning. For what it’s worth, multiple scouts voiced some character and coachability concerns about the player, and whether substantive or not it does appear his draft profile includes the flag as part of its sum total for at least a few teams.
Regardless, the stuff and body of a solid mid-rotation starter were very much on display in this start. He has the makings of a deep and complimentary arsenal to go along with a prototypical starter’s build, certainly looking the part of a durable innings eater. The pitch to pitch mechanical variance and stress distribution on account of inconsistencies in his lower half made for the biggest flags at present. Health will be the key ingredient for Ponce this spring, and if he stays on the bump without issue for the next two months he should put himself squarely in the draft room conversations of teams selecting in the back half of the first round.