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Thoughts on St. Louis Cardinals rookie Daniel Poncedeleon

Cardinals rookie threw seven hitless innings in MLB debut. Who is this guy?

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday the St. Louis Cardinals sent right-hander Daniel Poncedeleon to the mound for his major league debut against the Cincinnati Reds. To say it went well is an understatement: he threw seven hitless innings until being removed for pitch count reasons, giving up three walks and striking out three. He’s been on quite a roll lately, having given up just one hit in nine innings in his last Triple-A start for Memphis back on July 15th.

Poncedeleon was sent back to Memphis this morning but he’ll certainly be back in St. Louis later this year. Let’s take a look.

The Cardinals originally drafted Poncedeleon in the ninth round in 2014 from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. After a successful debut in the ‘14 New York-Penn League (2.44 ERA, 52/14 K/BB in 44 innings), he split 2015 between Low-A and High-A, combining for a 2.12 ERA with an 87/30 K/BB in 119 innings.

In the final edition of the Baseball Prospect Book, I wrote this:

Everyone roots for this guy because, well, how can you not? A ninth round pick out of Embry-Riddle in 2014, DPDL can get his fastball up to 93-94 MPH and will mix in a nice cutter, curve, and change, inducing numerous ground balls. His command has proved better than expected in pro ball and so far the A-ball levels have not been much of a challenge. The main question is his role. Although a starter thus far, when he was in college he was generally seen as a future reliever. We should note the sharp decline in his strikeout rate upon promotion to High-A. My guess is that he does end up in the pen eventually but he could be very good there. Grade C+.

The Cardinals (apparently wisely) ignored my relief projection and he started regularly in Double-A in 2016, posting a 3.52 ERA in 151 innings with a 122/56 K/BB and only 128 hits allowed. He entered 2017 as a Grade C+ prospect again.

Alas, Poncedeleon missed almost all of 2017 after being hit in the head with a line drive, causing a brain injury which required emergency surgery. He’s come back healthy and more effective than ever this year, posting a 2.15 ERA in 92 innings in Triple-A before his promotion with a 103/48 K/BB and just 66 hits allowed.

Poncedeleon is listed at 6-4, 185, born January 16th, 1992. At age 26 he’s not young as prospects go but that is less important for pitchers than hitters. The basic scouting outlines from two years ago haven’t changed much: he goes at hitters with a 90-96 MPH fastball, averaging just under 94. His change-up is effective and helps the fastball play up.

He can use both two-seam and four-seam fastballs to give hitters different looks, plus his cutter is a better pitch than it was when I last saw him back in A-ball in ‘15. The broad outlines of his arsenal haven’t really changed but everything seems more consistent than it was early in his career.

The command will still wobble at times but overall the package works. I think he can be a viable four/five starter and would most likely do well if switched to the bullpen.