With the 55th overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, Ray Montgomery and the Brewers selected right hander Cody Ponce from Division II Cal-Poly Pomona. Ponce was at one time considered a first round talent, but an injury during his final collegiate season allowed him to fall into the second round where he was snatched up by Milwaukee. Ponce was considered an excellent value pick in the draft and signed for a bonus of $1,108,000 in accordance with his assigned slot value.
Ponce hit the ground running once he was in the Brewers' organization. After a couple of appearances for Helena in the rookie Pioneer League, he was called up to Appleton and almost instantly became the best pitcher on their staff. In 12 appearances covering 46.0 innings, he posted a 2.15 ERA and 2.76 FIP. He struck out 36 batters while walking just four and generated ground balls at an impressive 55.1% rate.
The 21 year old (22 in April) has generated plenty of buzz after his excellent professional debut and great work in the fall instructional league. He's already caught the eye of Milwaukee's new farm director Tom Flanagan this spring, as well, who noted that Ponce has trimmed down some bad weight and added muscle mass to prepare for his first professional season.
Ponce is now ranked as a top 10 prospect in a suddenly loaded Brewers' farm system by Baseball Prospectus (9), MLB Pipeline (8), and Baseball America (9). Not only is he one of my favorite pitching prospects, but he's also a favorite of scout Chris Kusiolek. Kusiolek spent a great deal of time scouting instructional leagues last fall and is down in Arizona for spring training, and he was kind enough to provide me with this report on the imposing Brewers' right hander. (Note: Kusiolek, like many scouts, grades on a shorthand 2-8 scale as opposed to the traditional 20-80 scale. Grades still translate to the same meaning, however.)
Extreme physical, imposing build (6'6" and 230 lbs) with elite raw strength and arm strength. Large, pronounced barrel chest and broad shoulders. Thick, sturdy trunk; thick through hips and midsection. Big butt, thick stocky legs and lower half. Defined, muscular arms. Solid, burly physicality throughout at present. High maintenance build at absolute physical max, high risk body heading forward.
Above average arm speed, compact arm action with extreme arm strength. Can achieve premium arm acceleration from near stand still. Minimal torque, keeps entirety of arm action on front side. Some stresses on upper half and shoulder, but can decelerate arm fairly cleanly though with some moderate recoil at times. Arm shows as fairly loose, not conducive for consistency on spin and depth. Extension varies. Controlled, strong leg kick at set, closed landing, occasional slight crossfire. Drive varies with gradual back half collapse prior to foot strike. Extends front half and flexes front knee abruptly prior to foot strike, causes shift at foot strike with poor distribution of self and weight. Will alter release at times; can open front side periodically with varying stride length and replication. Able to repeat delivery fairly consistently despite intensive drive with repeatable arm and release, demonstrates some moderate athleticism.
Cody Ponce vs. Yaisel Puig. 98 with slight cut actionhttps://t.co/V7FHKNCIIe— Chris Kusiolek (@CaliKusiolek) September 30, 2015
Four-seam sits 94-97 MPH and touches 98. Explosive late life and defined hard cut action in all reaches on varying velocity bands. Pitch jumps and hops on bats, though he can struggle to get on top of pitch at times. Flashes hard downhill action and sink when on. Intense cut action and explosive when working north, showed ability to work east-west with pitch and disrupts hitter's timing. Potential 7 grade pitch if fully actualized at the highest level, will play effectively regardless of future utility.
Slider sits 86-89 MPH, lacks prototypical tilt and horizontal sweeping depth. Hard downward 12-6 depth. Varies and can play with depth, orients to more rounder and softer rotation at times. Able to effectively get on top of pitch and utilize to armside and flashes ability to work more horizontally to gloveside at times. Manipulates and varies depth for strikes and through zone. Potential 6 offering with put-away pitch potential.
Changeup sits 82-85 MPH. Varying arm speed and replication and extension, shows flat with minimal and inconsistent action at times. Flashes quality fading depth and run with arm speed replication. Feel is underdeveloped at present with potential to have offering actualize with greater development on feel. Lacks present utility of pitch consistently. Can develop behind utility of four-seam and spin and has the potential to become a 6 grade pitch.
Curveball sits 83-84 MPH. Arm action not conducive for increased depth of spin. Rounds heavily from release with soft rumbling rotation, feel poor with inconsistent release and slot replication. Pops to armside frequently. Well below average potential utility.
Physicality and durability enough to facilitate value within a rotation capacity. Extreme risk at present to achieve ceiling with high risk frame and high probability for body to become soft, stresses on shoulder increase potential for road bumps if genetics not in favor. Realistic 5 grade rotation arm. Floor is late inning reliever.
Obviously there is plenty of reason to be excited about Cody Ponce. He features a high-octane fastball and potentially a plus slider and changeup, giving him a starter's repertoire. His current build should hold up to the demands of pitching 160+ innings year in and year out if he can maintain or improve his athleticism, which he's shown he is working towards this spring.
According to Kusiolek his realistic ceiling is in the middle of the rotation, but of course that could improve if Ponce can bump his command up to the next level or improve his lagging curveball as a potential fourth offering. There is plenty of risk involved of course, but a projected floor as a late-inning reliever means that he should very likely have some future value at the big league level.
Kusiolek has expressed to me that he believes Ponce is better prospect than Kodi Medeiros or Devin Williams, both of whom are also considered top pitching prospects within the organization. Front-line pitching is rare and hard to come by throughout baseball, but personally I think Cody Ponce has as good a chance as any in the system to become a premium arm in the starting rotation. He should begin the 2016 season in high-A Brevard County and given his collegiate background, he could begin to fly though the system on his way to becoming a top 100 prospect beginning this year if everything "clicks." Cody Ponce is someone whose development I will be keeping a very close eye on in 2016.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs