The Angels have agreed to a minor league contract with right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon, per the team’s official transactions log. Because the former Cardinals swingman was released in September and did not return to a big league roster before season’s end, he qualified as a minor league free agent who can sign during the lockout. Ponce de Leon is repped by Paragon Sports.
Now 30 years old, Ponce de Leon had a promising start to his big league career, turning in a 3.31 ERA with a 24.8% strikeout rate, 11.6% walk rate and 40.7% ground-ball rate through his first 81 2/3 frames with the Cards from 2018-19. The free passes were a bit too frequent, but Ponce de Leon combated that trend with a penchant for inducing weak contact (87.2 mph exit velocity and 27.6% hard-hit rate, via Statcast).
Things took a turn for the worse in 2020, however. Ponce de Leon saw a big uptick in strikeouts (31.5%) but also saw his walk rate balloon to 14%. He was also torched for eight home runs in 32 2/3 innings that season — the same combined number he’d yielded through his first 81 2/3 career innings. He was unable to right the ship in 2021, as the pronounced increase in hard-hit balls by his opponents continued — all while his strikeout rate plummeted to a career-worst 15.4%.
All told, Ponce de Leon has followed up that promising 2018-19 showing with 66 innings of 5.59 ERA ball. He’s fanned 22.9% of opponents against a 14% walk rate and allowed 1.77 homers per nine innings pitched across the past two seasons. The right-hander’s average fastball still clocks in at 93.4 mph — the same mark at which it’s landed in each of his four MLB seasons — and he has a sterling track record in Triple-A. Through 218 2/3 innings at that level, Ponce de Leon carries a 2.39 ERA with a 230-to-114 K/BB ratio. Free passes have always been something of an issue, but he’ll give the Angels some depth both in the rotation and in the bullpen.
With the Angels, Ponce de Leon won’t be considered a candidate to crack the rotation unless there are multiple injuries that decimate the team’s depth. He’s behind Shohei Ohtani, Noah Syndergaard, Patrick Sandoval, Michael Lorenzen, Jose Suarez, Jaime Barria, Reid Detmers, Griffin Canning and several other starting candidates on the depth chart. That said, it’s certainly possible that with a strong showing this spring, he could crack the roster as a long reliever/swingman — similar to the role he held for the past four seasons in St. Louis. He’s out of minor league options, so if Ponce de Leon is added to the 40-man roster at any point, he’d need to be exposed to waivers before he could potentially be sent back to Triple-A.