Why Poncedeleon and Gomber are Starting and Hudson is Not

photo: 2018 PCL All-Stars Dakota Hudson, Daniel Poncedeleon, Patrick Wisdom (Daniel Poncedeleon photo)

Brian Walton outlines factors that likely went into the St. Louis Cardinals’ decision for which two rookie pitchers from among three candidates will start in Cincinnati on Monday and Tuesday.

With the St. Louis Cardinals needing starting pitchers on Monday and Tuesday in Cincinnati, the club waited until Sunday afternoon to make its announcement. Two first-time MLB starters, Daniel Poncedeleon and Austin Gomber, will get the ball in the two contests.

Daniel Poncedeleon (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

For the former, it will be his MLB debut after being called up in mid-June, but not being asked to pitch. The latter, a lefty, has made 15 relief appearances for St. Louis in his rookie year. Both are currently in the Memphis rotation and are well-rested, with Poncedeleon having last pitched on the 15th and Gomber two days later.

The two are both long-time prospects in the Cardinals system, with Poncedeleon and Gomber placed 21st and 14th, respectively, in The Cardinal Nation’s June rankings.

Poncedeleon arrives in the bigs with momentum, as the reigning Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week after throwing a one-hit, complete-game shutout at Omaha in his last start. Much will be written and said about his impressive comeback from a serious head injury suffered last May, but the right-hander has earned his opportunity, fair and square, plain and simple.

Named the most improved pitcher on the Memphis staff by manager Stubby Clapp this season, the 26-year old has crafted a 2.15 ERA, which is second-lowest in the entire PCL. Poncedeleon was honored by the league as an All-Star selection.

Austin Gomber (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

As noted above, Gomber has already impressed with his relief work with St. Louis, with a 3.77 ERA and .239 batting average against in his first 14 1/3 innings. The only real downside is eight walks.

For a St. Louis rotation that has not featured a left-handed member since the departure of Jaime Garcia after the 2016 season, and with no other lefties in the pipeline anywhere near the majors, the 24-year old Gomber has bonus appeal if he can excel in a starting role.

Of course, both already have spots on St. Louis’ 40-man roster, making their moves up and down much easier.

Where is Hudson?

Their Memphis teammate and rotation mate Dakota Hudson is considered an even better prospect. We have him number four overall in the system currently as the top-ranked pitcher behind injured Alex Reyes.

Hudson’s high visibility leads to some questioning the organization’s motives in promoting Poncedeleon and Gomber instead. The following tweet directed to me on Sunday is but one example.

Hudson is also younger in both age, 23, and professional experience than the others. The latter is the primary reason he will likely remain in the minors for now.

Dakota Hudson (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Because he was drafted in 2016, Hudson is not yet required to be protected in the December Rule 5 Draft. By keeping him off the 40-man roster until entirely necessary, the organization can use that spot for another player who does need protection this year.

One downside of having a farm system with a number of good prospects close to the majors is not having room to keep them all. For those who wave this off as insignificant, you must be new around here. To get up to speed, I suggest you Google “Allen Cordoba”, “Cardinals” and “Rule 5”.

As to one of the concerns registered in the tweet above, while it is true that Hudson’s MLB service time would start when called up, I have not seen past behavior by the organization to hold down player service time artificially.

For example, in a similar scenario in 2016, the Cards could have kept Alex Reyes down, but they did not do it. They brought him up in August because they had a need, even though he will eventually become free agent eligible a year earlier as a result.

What about September?

A poster on The Cardinal Nation’s free and very active message board wondered if the Cardinals would wait until this September to bring Hudson up when rosters expand.

In my view, that would be the worst possible approach.

By waiting, the Cardinals would not receive the benefit on the field of his pitching sooner, they would start the service time clock this year anyway, and finally, he would take up the same 40-man roster spot then heading into the off-season as he would now. (Further, a player would need to be removed from the 40-man to make room, either way.)

The bottom line

If the Cardinals anticipate needing Hudson this season, they would be best served to do it now – if the decision could be made in a vacuum. But that is not reality.

Obviously, they do not think it is going to be necessary over the reminder of the year. They are expecting to get Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha back, and even though Adam Wainwright remains a question mark, he will eventually be returned to the roster and receive the opportunity to end his illustrious Cardinals career on his own terms.

Coming full circle, the short term call is relatively easy. Despite the fact that Hudson is a very good talent, both Poncedeleon and Gomber have earned their respective shots to start for St. Louis at this time.

Who knows? Maybe one or both of them will stick.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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