Jays' Nicaraguan pitching prospect hopes to build on strong 2017

 Left-hander Randy Pondler was named Appalachian League pitcher of the year with the Rookie ball Bluefield Blue Jays in 2017. Photo Credit: Warren Kosoy

Left-hander Randy Pondler was named Appalachian League pitcher of the year with the Rookie ball Bluefield Blue Jays in 2017. Photo Credit: Warren Kosoy

By Warren Kosoy

Canadian Baseball Network

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Randy Pondler is pursuing a baseball dream only 14 Nicaraguan Major Leaguers have accomplished.

These steps cannot happen overnight, and Pondler was well aware of this when setting his goals for the season.

But he’s off to a tremendous start – he was the Appalachian League pitcher of the year in 2017 for Bluefield.

“I am excited to be back in spring training and my plan this year is that I want to go to Lansing (of the Midwest League) and I want to try to do my best, so I can try to have a better year than last year,” Pondler said. “I want to try to get better every year, every day, every moment.”

Pondler wants to be even better than last year, when he was 4-1 with a 2.51 earned-run average, and a 3.82 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Modern analytics tend to place a strong emphasis on striking out hitters and inducing swings and misses, but Pondler took a different approach.  He had an increased focus last season on drawing weak contact and ground balls.

This can help to explain his low .256 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), as he forced opposing hitters to a 59 per cent ground ball rate.

Pondler points to his sinking fastball for his results.

“My fastball is my first pitch. I use it a lot because it sinks a lot, and I love ground balls.”

Pondler credits Bluefield’s pitching coach Antonio Caceres with focusing less on striking guys out and more on drawing weak contact to go deeper in the games to help his bullpen, which was the opposite approach as he used to have.

“When I was young, I was focused on striking out guys, and then last year in Bluefield, my pitching coach said it doesn’t make sense to try to strike out a guy,” he said. “Striking out a guy is very hard, and you need to use maybe eight, nine pitches, or up to 11 pitches to that guy.”

He says he is focusing a lot on his slider now to help improve his success against left-handed batters, against whom he struggled a bit last year.

Pondler has a lot of work to do, but he is off to a good start in his career and has a noticeable exuberance about being back at spring training with the hopes of taking the next step towards stardom.