Ponce, Puerto Rico - Cozy Ponson had no problems with his right shoulder in a 6 inning, 90 pitch outing, to pick up the win against the Carolina Giants in winter league action. Many scouts have been watching the El Paso Fighting Tacos' highly touted pitching prospect. Sporting long hair and a beaded necklace, Ponson could easily be confused for an amateur surfer in town for the winter, rather than one of the Major League's most promising prospects.
Ponson is pitching in the Puerto Rico Winter League as part of a strengthening assignment, following a frustrating season 11 that saw Cozy injure his shoulder three times. Scouts from several teams have been watching the former 1st round pick very closely, amidst rumors that El Paso may trade their future ace due to health concerns. If Ponson can stay healthy and get back on track with his development, they should have no problems in finding takers... but if he regains his form, they may have no desire to trade him. Fighting Taco officials have declined to comment, but the pitching coach for the Ponce Lions, Tony Ortiz, mentioned that he is getting plenty of questions about Ponson's workouts and command of his pitches from people within and outside the organization.
Ponson, originally from Cambridge, Masachusetts, was a first round pick and second overall pick of the amateur draft two seasons ago. Ponson moved quickly through the Minor League ranks: he never pitched in rookie or Low A ball, and only pitched 7 innings in High A ball before being promoted to AA. He started 12 times for Kansas City's AA team and was promptly promoted to AAA, where he pitched 45 innings over two seasons. Kansas City traded Ponson to El Paso, and was originally reassigned to AA by his new franchise. He quickly overmatched AA hitters and El Paso promoted him again to AAA. In his 2nd season in professional baseball, Ponson logged 187 innings between two franchises, 3 teams and 2 levels. His combined record was 15-9 in 29 starts. Season 11 brought great promise - Ponson started 5 Spring training games and limited opponents to a .212 AVG, 1.05 WHIP and a 2.51 ERA. Things progressed quickly after that : 3 trips to the disabled list due to shoulder injuries and a season in which he only pitched 60 2/3 innings and gave up a 7.42 ERA, .303 OAV and a 4-5 record for El Paso's AAA team.
El Paso is hoping that a vigorous strengthening and conditioning program and off-season rehab while pitching to live batters in Puerto Rico will return Ponson to top prospect form. Many critics believe that Ponson's 187 innings in Season 10 took a toll on his arm, but his recent appearances as a starter have shown no indication that Ponson has slowed down. Ponson has struggled against left handed batters, and his coaches' efforts have focused on developing his delivery mechanics to give lefthanded hitters a more difficult read on his 4-pitch arsennal. Ponson has the potential to be one of the top pitches in the Major Leagues, and El Paso is investing heavily on his development. If the past is any consolation, and judging from his rapid progression through the minors, Ponson should someday challenge for the Cy Young award.
Ponson's AAA teammate and fellow New Englander Joe McCormick is also pitching for Ponce in the Puerto Rico Winter League.