Cal Poly Pomona’s Cody Ponce Still in Play for First Round

Cody Ponce entered the spring as a potential first-round pick following a breakout summer in the Cape Cod League. That’s still the case now just two weeks before the draft, and I saw why during his Sunday start against Tampa in the Division II World Series, which was played at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex in Cary, N.C.

In the Cape, the Cal Poly Pomona right-hander sat 92-94 mph, touching 97, and combined his fastball with a hard cutter, curveball and changeup. That’s the same four-pitch mix he’s working with now, although the stuff wasn’t as sharp in my look compared to the reports from the summer. Still, he’s logged 62.1 innings this spring on his way to a 1.44 ERA with 54 hits allowed, 14 walks and 67 strikeouts so far this season, albeit against inferior competition.

At no point over the last 10 years has Cal Poly Ponoma produced a player that was drafted inside of the top-10 rounds. Ponce, who ranks No. 23 on Kiley’s latest draft board, will certainly end that streak and likely become the program’s highest-drafted player since 1983, when the Dodgers selected left-hander Mike Munoz in the third round.

Physical Description

From a total surface area perspective, Ponce is perhaps the biggest of the pitchers who are candidates to go in the first round, standing 6-foot-5, 240 pounds. He has a big, durable build with broad shoulders suitable for handling starting pitcher’s workload, but it’s a softer, bulkier body type that makes fitness maintenance more of a chore (and prompts him to continually re-tuck and fidget with his shirt). He’s not stiff by any means, but his mass naturally limits his athleticism and agility, which becomes noticeable when fielding his position.


Against Tampa in the DII World Series, Ponce sat at his usual 91-93, touching 94 mph with no problem maintaining his velocity into the later innings. He opened the game with below-average command, allowing three hits after leaving some fastballs over the plate at belt level, but later found his rhythm and more consistently placed the ball in the lower third. With minimal sink, it lacks the defining vertical or horizontal movement needed to be a swing-and-miss offering at a higher level.

His best pitch on this night was his cutter, which ranged between 86-88 mph and competed in the zone with sudden tilt. (Some evaluators in attendance wondered aloud if it was a slider, but Ponce calls it a cutter, and indeed it doesn’t quite have the depth of a traditional slider.) It’s not a true wipeout pitch, but it has enough late action that it should draw consistent weak contact and the occasional empty swings against better competition. He also mixed in a curveball that flashed average, registering between 78-82 mph with 11-to-5 shape and ordinary snap. It didn’t break as deeply as it reportedly has in the past, but he proved willing to throw it to either side of the plate. His changeup, a modest tumbler that’s still too firm, is merely a show-me offering at this stage of development, although the velocity differential is ideal at 82-83 mph.


Ponce has an easy delivery that’s more fluid than you’d expect from someone of his size. He begins his windup by stepping backwards with his glove-side leg, then pivoting with the other as he launches into a high leg kick that closes off his hips, appearing as though he’s rocking back and forth on the mound. From a short takeaway, he transitions into a quick, compact arm circle on the way to his mid-three-quarters release point. There’s some deception created when he breaks straight away from his body and shields the ball with his wide frame, but it’s not a particularly loose arm action and generally isn’t difficult to track. This is particularly the case when he’s throwing his curveball and his entire motion slows down. At finish, there’s some stiffness in his extension, and he lands with slightly bent glove-side knee and an inward-pointing toe, the latter of which looks uneasy but oughtn’t necessarily affect command.

I also saw some dissonance in his lower half that inhibits repeatability and potentially costs him velocity. His back leg lags severely behind the rest of his motion, wheeling slowly around his body well after release. This forces his front side to assume more weight than it should, making it more difficult to maintain his balance through release while perhaps draining some velocity he could tap into if his inherent power were distributed better. Less consequentially, it leaves him in a precarious fielding position.


Among the pitchers who are viable first-round candidates, Ponce is one of the safer ones to project as a long-term starter thanks to his durable build, easy motion and feel for four pitches. But conversely, he lacks natural fastball life, a traditional out pitch and reliable command – which keeps me from believing he’s anything more than a back-end-of-the-rotation starter. I’m not forgetting the 96-97 mph fastball he showed in the Cape, but that velocity came during shorter stints and it hasn’t been there as a starter this spring. I’m lower on Ponce than the consensus and would rank him outside of the top-25 prospects on my draft board, although a team that saw him good in the Cape may justifiably pop him higher.

Fastball: 55/60, Cutter: 50/55, Curveball: 40/50+, Changeup: 40/50, Command: 40/50

Looking Ahead: This is the time of year during which I’m most thankful I live in what’s probably the most convenient place in the country to watch top amateur baseball talent. Not only is the Triangle region of North Carolina in the heart of ACC country, but it’s also home to USA Baseball, whose college national team plays a handful of exhibition games at its National Training Complex in Cary for a three-week stretch in June and July. The complex also plays host to the annual Tournament of Stars, a high-school showcase that features many of the country’s top draft-eligible prep players every June. After the draft, my attention will turn to the college national team and TOS, so those are two things you can expect draft prospect coverage in the near future as we look toward the loaded 2016 draft class.

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9 years ago

Thanks for the write-up. Go Broncos!