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July 30, 2014

Scouting the Draft

The Cape League All-Star Game

by Al Skorupa

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This year’s Cape League All Star Game was interesting from both a scouting and talking point perspective. The league and managers did a great job picking the best prospects, which hasn’t always been the case in previous years. The biggest name that scouts were excited to see was Kentucky’s Kyle Cody. Cody has been brilliant for Wareham and seems to be the consensus best arm on the Cape this summer. He showed some overpowering mid-90s heat on Sunday night.

It’s another Cody who is probably the biggest helium guy on the Cape this year: Cody Ponce. The big righty from Cal Poly Pomona has been a revelation. There are always pop-up guys on the Cape, but Ponce was a bit of a surprise to even ardent college baseball followers. He wasn’t a highly regarded recruit. He wasn’t even the top arm on his high school team and he played JV as a junior. As a freshman in college he was largely used out of the bullpen. He saw only 48 innings that year and he didn’t even start the 2014 season in the weekend rotation for the Broncos. Even making 11 starts this spring, Ponce didn’t post eye-popping strikeout numbers (49 Ks in 71.1 IP). Nor did he generate a tremendous amount of buzz. That has all changed this summer.

Ponce is an imposing figure at 6-foot-6 and 240 lbs. The first thing you notice is that he’s much more athletic than most pitchers that size. Most evoke adjectives like “lumbering,” “uncoordinated” and the occasional “big stiff” on scouting reports. That’s not Ponce, who moves very well. Ponce does a fairly good job repeating his easy, balanced delivery. His velo comes easy and he doesn’t need to exert a lot of effort. With his size, back hip load, front shoulder tilt and high three-quarters arm slot Ponce always pitches with great downhill plane. Hitters have a devil of a time elevating his pitches.

Ponce’s fastball has been harder each time I’ve seen him. He was sitting 88-91 mph on Opening Day for the Cape—and I still very much liked what I saw. He inched progressively up each time with recent readings more toward the 93-95 (t96) he showed in the All-Star game. It’s a heavy fastball with tail and sink low, but it can also miss bats up. Ponce doesn’t have pinpoint command but he throws his fastball to both his glove and arm side with intent. He’s also got a great feel for pitching, adding velo or taking some off on all his pitches.

I see Ponce as having a chance to end up with four above-average pitches. His curveball (76-80) has tight spin and good downer action. He throws the pitch as both a chase and a strike to both sides of the plate. His slider/cutter varies in depth and was generally mid-90s, but in the All-Star Game he bumped it up to the 86-90 mph range. Ponce has an excellent feel for both curve and slider and varies the depth of both breaking balls depending on the situation. While he doesn’t really need it often, the circle changeup (82-85) flashes plus as well.

Ultimately, Ponce ticks all the boxes that give me confidence he can be a successful big-league starter. Size, deep repertoire, feel for pitching and arm strength are all in his favor. Given his relatively fresh arm and lack of innings it would be no surprise to see Ponce take another big step forward. Even if that doesn’t happen, I’d likely write him up as a mid-rotation starter. Crosscheckers and Scouting Directors will likely be in and out of Pomona a lot next Spring.

Some Other Standouts:

  • The "other" Cody, Kentucky's Kyle Cody, entered the All-Star Game as perhaps the top arm on the Cape this summer. The Wildcat had the honor of starting Sunday's game, making quick work of the East squad with a steady diet of lively 94 to 96 mph fastballs, topping out at 97 on multiple guns behind the plate. Cody did not have to dip into his secondaries during his quick half inning, but has thus far this summer shown a solid low to mid-80s changeup with solid dip and an inconsistent slurvy breaker that will flash above-average but more consistently grades out a notch or two below that.

  • Chris Chinea, C, Wareham/LSU: Ponce’s one mistake got punished by Kyle Cody’s batterymate on Wareham. Ponce let it fly on his first pitch of the night and Chinea was sitting dead red on the fastball—he jumped on the pitch for a home run to left field. Chinea is a strong kid with a quick bat. He’s solid defensively now, if somewhat inconsistent, but he has all the tools to be a big-league catcher. His throwing, footwork and blocking need polish.
  • Ryan Perez, P, Hyannis/Judson: The winning pitcher from the All-Star Game is actually a switch-pitcher. Perez’s switch-pitching is more than a gimmick, too. Remarkably, he has the same stuff and velo from both sides. Perez was 90-92 with a darting fastball and a tight breaking ball that was 75-81. It’s a relief profile, but he’s a legitimate prospect from… umm… both sides of the… mound? Perez got as many swings and misses as any pitcher in the game.
  • Phil Bickford, RHP, Y-D/Cal State Fullerton: The unsigned 2013 first rounder scuffled early in the Cape season, but he’s blossomed in a relief role. Bickford clearly needs to get stronger, but it’s easy to see the appeal of this arm. Scouts hoping to see Bickford were disappointed in this game as he only threw three pitches—all at 94 and 95 mph.
  • Kyri Washington, OF, Wareham/Longwood: The best batting practice bat on the Cape brought some thunder to the home run hitting contest after a slow start. Washington consistently works under the ball and creates a tremendous amount of natural loft and backspin. He wowed the crowd by sending a few homers onto a football field well past the bullpens. Washington has shown some of the loudest raw tools in the league, but he hasn’t produced in games. He’s now hitting .200 on the season and has shown a lot of swing-and-miss. Washington was a football player and he’s behind the curve learning baseball skills. The Longwood outfielder remains a project, but he’s one of the most intriguing projects out there.

  • Sal Annunziata, 1B, Harwich/Seton Hall: One of the more interesting 2015 senior signs in the Northeast, Seton Hall’s Annunziata shows some big time raw power. The Pirates first baseman isn’t overly large (The Cape has him listed at 6-foot-1 and Seton Hall’s website has him listed at 5-11), but he sure is strong. He’s capable of driving the ball out to any field even if he doesn’t square it. He’s hit well on the Cape this summer, but the bat speed isn’t elite and he’s shown some problems with spin and soft stuff.
  • Cameron O’Brien, C, Falmouth/West Virginia: Coming in to catch for the West team in relief of Chinea, O’Brien also homered. The switch-hitting Mountaineers backstop tagged a fastball from UNC pitcher Reilly Hovis out to center field. O’Brien and Chinea, along with East starter Anthony Hermelyn, make this one of the deepest Cape catching classes in the last few years. The group lacks a star and no one comes close to the impact level of Max Pentecost last year, but overall it’s a solid group of catchers.
  • Scott Effross, RHP, Wareham/Indiana: This righty arm out of Indiana has been one of the better looking relief arms all summer and he pitched an effective inning in the game. He’s a tough pick up flashing late from a low three-quarters arm slot. His heater works in the 90-94 mph range. Effross complements that with a strong SL (74-81) and CH (78-83).

Photos and Kyle Cody scouting report by Nick J. Faleris.

Al Skorupa is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Al's other articles. You can contact Al by clicking here

Related Content:  Draft,  Prospects,  Scouting

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