One of the arms the Pittsburgh Pirates have that gets over looked is right-hander Cody Ponce. Since being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers back in 2015, Ponce’s role has changed multiple times. He started out as a starter from 2015 to 2017. In 2018, he was moved to the bullpen after struggling at the higher levels when he was coming out of the rotation.
To start 2019, Ponce was exclusively used out of the bullpen. He was pitching quite well as he put up a 3.29 ERA, 2.59 FIP and 1.17 WHIP in 38.1 innings. When he was moved to the ‘pen, Ponce’s strikeout rate rose to a strong 27.5% mark while keeping a decent 7.5% walk rate. He also only allowed one home run enroute to posting a strong 2.88 xFIP.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Ponce at the 2019 trade deadline in exchange for Jordan Lyles, they moved him back to the rotation where he had middling results.
Ponce was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis where he had a 5.30 ERA, 5.39 FIP and 1.33 WHIP. His strikeout rates and walk rates took a bit of a hit, going to 24.4% and 8.5%, respectively, but it was the home runs that really bit Ponce. He surrendered four in 18.1 innings of work. During the offseason, Ponce pitched in the Arizona Fall League where he was used out of the rotation and put up really good numbers which included a 2.35 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 2.33 FIP in 23 innings.
The right-hander made his major league debut in 2020, his age 26 season. He pitched 17 innings posting a 3.18 ERA, but only struck out 12 batters and five of the 12 hits he surrendered went for home runs. Despite his overall lackluster results in his first taste of MLB action, there’s still a lot to like about Ponce.
FanGraphs gives Ponce two pitches with 60-grade potential, his two fastballs. He doesn’t throw particularly hard with his four-seamer coming in at 93.2 MPH, but does have 2516 RPM. His other fastball is a cutter. Right now, that grades out as a 55, but has a future of 60 because of its 2543 RPM. He also throws a sinker on occasion, which comes in with 2550 RPM. Overall, Ponce’s fastball spin rates rank at the top 95th in all of baseball. Ponce, like Brubaker, could serve multiple roles in 2021.