SEPTEMBER 23: The Cardinals announced Thursday that Ponce de Leon has been granted his release. He’ll be free to explore opportunities elsewhere.
SEPTEMBER 22: Ponce de Leon cleared waivers and has been assigned outright to Triple-A Memphis, the Cardinals announced Wednesday. He’ll remain in the organization but is no longer on the 40-man roster.
SEPTEMBER 20: The Cardinals announced Monday that they’ve designated right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon for assignment. His spot on the roster will go to lefty Brandon Waddell, who has been recalled from Triple-A Memphis.
Ponce de Leon, 29, got out to a nice start in his big league career with the Cards. From 2018-19, the former ninth-round pick tallied 81 2/3 frames with a 3.31 ERA, a solid 24.8 percent strikeout rate and an 11.6 percent walk rate. The free passes were too frequent, of course, but Ponce de Leon generally functioned as a useful swingman in St. Louis over those two seasons. He appeared in 24 games and split his time evenly between the bullpen and the rotation: a dozen appearances each. He had a bit more success out of the ’pen, but Ponce de Leon was quite solid in both roles.
Things took a downward turn in 2020, when he limped to a 4.96 ERA in 32 2/3 frames, and the 2021 season has gone largely off the rails for the righty. So far, Ponce de Leon has pitched 33 1/3 innings and been tagged for a dismal 6.21 ERA. His 15.2 percent strikeout rate is far and away the lowest of his career, and his 13.9 percent strikeout rate is right in line with last season’s career-worst mark of 14.0 percent. Ponce de Leon is generating fewer swinging strikes than ever before, and the 89.1 mph average exit velocity he’s allowed is a career-high mark.
The Cardinals will place Ponce de Leon on outright waivers or release him within the next couple of days. It’s possible that given his 2018-19 success, another club in need of some depth would take a speculative look via waiver claim. However, Ponce de Leon is also out of minor league options, so any club that picks him up won’t have the luxury of sending him to the minors unless they can successfully pass him through waivers themselves.