Pittsburgh Pirates: Examining Cody Ponce’s Potential Role in 2021

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 06: Cody Ponce #60 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action during the game against the Minnesota Twins at PNC Park on August 6, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 06: Cody Ponce #60 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action during the game against the Minnesota Twins at PNC Park on August 6, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /
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Despite being a lesser known prospect when the Pittsburgh Pirates traded for him, pitcher Cody Ponce could be used in multiple roles by the Pirates in 2021.

One of the moves the Pittsburgh Pirates made at the trade deadline in 2019 that went fairly un-noticed was when they sent veteran right hander Jordan Lyles to the Milwaukee Brewers for pitching prospect Cody Ponce. Ponce was a former 2nd round draft pick in 2015, and has seen his role change multiple times throughout his minor league career.

Through 2017, Ponce was mainly a starter, as he only appeared out of the bullpen five times, all being in his professional debut season in 2015. After struggling as a starter at Double-A in 2018, Ponce was moved to the bullpen. That was his primary role before his trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates as he pitched 38.1 innings all out of the pen. However, after the trade, the Pirates moved Ponce back into the rotation.

Ponce made his debut last year, and made his debut out of the pen. He didn’t do all that well as in the 3.1 innings he pitched he allowed 2 earned runs, both on solo shots. The Pittsburgh Pirates then placed him in the starting rotation and he did fairly well. In the 13.2 innings he started, the right hander had a 2.63 ERA, but was still struggling with the long ball surrendering three more.

Ponce has seen his role change time and time again, and his role in 2021 could be a hybrid of all the different roles he has had in his career, pitching out of the pen and as a relief pitcher and occasionally as a starter.

There’s no question whether or not the right hander has the stuff to be effective. Ponce’s four-seam fastball has 2516 RPM, placing it in the top 95th percentile of all pitchers in 2020. His cutter also has a lot of spin with 2543 RPM. Because of the extreme spin he has on both pitches, FanGraphs grades both as pitches with a future of being a 60.

Though his cutter and four-seamer are his best pitches, they’re far from his only pitches. He also throws a curveball. Though he was in the bottom 22nd percentile of curveball spin rate at 22780 RPM, FanGraphs still gives the pitch an average grade, making three average or better offerings. Ponce threw a change up as well in the MLB in 2020, but FanGraphs has him with a 45-grade change up which makes it a solid fourth offering. His fifth pitch is a sinker, which, like his fastball and cutter, has 2550 RPM.

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Now just because Ponce isn’t going to be a starter doesn’t mean he won’t be effective. Ponce is a lot like Chris Stratton in terms of velocity and spin rate, and Stratton has been a nice find for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I could see Ponce serving a role similar to that of Jeanmar Gomez in 2013. Gomez pitched 80 total innings in 35 games with eight starts, but seeing more higher leverage moments than Gomez did.

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