The past couple days have been scary for St. Louis Cardinals prospect Daniel Poncedeleon.
While everything is fantastic at the major-league level for the St. Louis Cardinals right now, the organization has been dealing with an extremely scary situation in the minor leagues over the past couple days.
Righthanded starting pitcher Daniel Poncedeleon, who is in his third full season with the Cardinals organization and his first campaign with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds, was struck in the head by a line drive while facing the Iowa Cubs on Tuesday afternoon. After remaining in front of the mound for roughly 10 minutes as medical personnel attended to him and concerned players surrounded him, Poncedeleon was taken off the field on a stretcher and transported to an Iowa hospital.
As MLB.com’s Glenn Sattell and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Rick Hummel wrote Wednesday, Poncedeleon had emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. As Dr. Michael Miles of our fellow FanSided site Redbird Rants reported, Poncedeleon was still in the intensive care unit as of Wednesday.
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Poncedeleon’s injury is the latest example of the inherent danger that comes with pitching at the professional level. It’s yet another sign that pitchers should probably start wearing protective headgear on the mound, but that movement still faces a long, uphill battle. Lefty specialist Alex Torres faced widespread ridicule when he wore a preliminary model of the protective headgear for pitchers starting in 2014.
Since Torres’s big-league career came to an end, no other pitcher has dared to wear the same type of distracting protective gear. However, Los Angeles Angels righthander Matt Shoemaker announced before the 2017 season that he’d begin wearing a protective carbon fiber insert on the inside of his cap after he was struck by a 105 MPH fastball last September and was forced to undergo the same type of skull surgery that Poncedeleon just underwent.
As you can see in the photo to the right, Shoemaker’s insert is almost totally unnoticeable, and the subject hasn’t come up in the media during recent weeks, so we can only assume that he’s still wearing it.
Quite a few major-leaguers have dealt with these types of scary situations in recent years and come back to pitch effectively, including Joe Martinez, Doug Fister, J.A. Happ, Alex Cobb, Brandon McCarthy, Aroldis Chapman, Dan Jennings, Carlos Carrasco, Bryan Mitchell, and Archie Bradley. One can only hope that Poncedeleon fully recovers just like those pitchers and is able to come back and fulfill his dream of being a major-leaguer.
Aside from the obviously tragic nature of the situation, the loss of Poncedeleon is a potentially major hit to the Cardinals’ pitching depth. The 25-year-old righthander had posted a 2.17 ERA, a .196 opponent batting average, 25 strikeouts, and 13 walks in 29 innings over his first six starts at the Triple-A level. Those are especially impressive numbers for a pitcher who’s just breaking into the ultra-hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, and they were also by far the best numbers of any full-time Redbirds starter. With Poncedeleon out indefinitely, the Cardinals will have to hope that Luke Weaver stays healthy in case they need to bring up a spot starter from the minors.