Indians farmhand Adam Plutko may have started his professional career slower than expected, but he’s speeding up quickly.
Plutko was drafted last year in the 11th round of the First Year Player Draft out of UCLA. Unlike most players making their professional debut in the same year that they were picked, the Indians held Plutko out until the 2014 season as they were concerned over the amount of innings he had already thrown for the Bruins in the 2013 collegiate season.
In 2013 Plutko was named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player helping the Bruins win the College World Series. Plutko was on the same pitching staff with the Bruins as Pittsburgh Pirates starter Gerrit Cole and the Indians own Trevor Bauer. Plutko actually came into college with what most scouts thought better stuff than both Cole and Bauer with a fastball that sat around 95 mph as a freshman. Plutko saw his velocity drop down to around 90 mph over time for the Bruins and witnessed Cole and Bauer also become first round picks. As a junior in 2013 Plutko had become the workhorse and the ace of a staff in which many didn’t have high hopes for. While Plutko and the Bruins proved many wrong in 2013, it still didn’t help his draft status as the Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series wasn’t taken until the 11th round by the Indians.
The Indians do feel that Plutko will be able to recoup some of that velocity he lost in college. In 2014 his first professional season Plutko is so far proving to be more than capable of handling minor league bats. Despite having a 3.93 earned run average for Lake County based mostly on one bad start, Plutko has been dominant by striking out 66 batters in only 52.2 innings pitched. Plutko ranks second in the Midwest league with those 66 strikeouts ad at the time was in the top 10 in all of the minor leagues. Plutko already has struck out 10 or more batters twice in his 11 professional starts including a high of 13 on the eighth of May. I wrote last week that Plutko should be able to move quickly through the Indians system due to the fact that he was a college arm and great approach. Thursday Plutko was promoted from Low-A Lake County to Hi-A Carolina and actually made his first start that night earning the win while pitching six innings allowing 7 hits, four runs, one walk and striking out six. I was able to have a short discussion with a scout this week who thinks Plutko could be a solid fourth or fifth starter in Major Leagues. Hopefully Plutko will someday make it to Cleveland and continue to prove many baseball minds wrong along the way.
On Monday the Columbus Clippers ended a six game losing streak with a win over the Charlotte Knights. The losing streak started last Tuesday (May 19) and included being swept in a four game series at home against the Durham Bulls. The Clippers ended the week splitting the four game series with the Knights bringing their record to 24-28 on the season, and move from second place in the International League Western Division to a tie for last, 7.5 games out behind the Indianapolis Indians.
The hitting star of the week newly promoted outfielder Tyler Holt. Holt, just promoted from the Akron RubberDucks, played his first game for the Clippers on May 26. He promptly delivered a game tying double in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs, in which the team went on to win, 4-3 in 12 innings to end their six game losing streak. Holt has only four hits in his 16 at bats but added three walks, scored six runs with two doubles and a stolen base in his four games played. While only playing in a little over half the games during the week for the Clippers, Holt was a huge part of the team’s two victories and seemed to be a jolt to a struggling offense. Holt was selected by the Indians in the 10th round of the 2010 draft out of Florida State. Being stuck at Double-A Akron since late 2012 Holt was finally promoted to Triple-A Columbus after posting a .298 average, with a .416 on-base percentage and eleven stolen bases. Holt is known as a hard-nosed gritty ball player who is a great defender and possesses some speed with 103 stolen bases during his minor league career.
The pitching star of the week is right-handed pitcher, Danny Salazar. Salazar, tabbed as the next possible ace of the Indians major league staff, after dominating as a rookie in 2013 struggled mightily and was demoted to Columbus almost two weeks ago. Making his second start since being demoted, Salazar, while not great, made a step in the right direction, pitching five and one-third innings, giving up only four hits, two unearned runs while walking three and striking out nine. Salazar’s struggles had been attributed to a dip in velocity and not working enough down in the zone, leaving too many pitches up. While Salazar’s 2014 has been a huge disappointment, the Indians and many around baseball still feel confident he will end up being a top of the rotation starter in his career. Salazar was signed by the Indians as a non-drafted free agent back in 2006 and missed most of the 2010 season undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Stop the presses, the Akron RubberDucks actually had a four game losing streak? Yes, the first place RubberDucks who had been unbelievably hot came back to earth a bit but it wouldn’t last long as they ended their week winning three of their final four games, including a 16- 4 drubbing of the Reading Fightin Phils on Thursday night. The RubberDucks are now 33-20 on the season, in first place, leading the Bowie Baysoxs by four games.
The hitting star of the week is second baseman Joe Wendle. Wendle, on one of his hot streaks again, hit .333 for the week and led the RubberDucks during the week in hits with 11, doubles with three, runs scored with five and runs batted in with seven. Wendle has not been very consistent so far in 2014 as he has either been scorching hot or ice cold at the plate. He will need to become consistent to continue his ascent up the Indians system. Wendle was a sixth round pick of the 2012 First Year Player Draft out of West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Wendle was the Indians 2013 Minor League Player of the Year. During 2013, Wendle played the whole season for the Carolina Mudcats and hit .295 on the year with 16 homeruns, 64 runs batted in and 10 stolen bases in just 107 games played. In Wendle’s 107 games played in 2013, he accumulated 122 hits but even more impressive is that 53 of those hits went for extra bases. MLB.com has Wendle ranked as the team’s 11th best prospect.
The pitching star of the week is right-handed starting pitcher Joe Colon. Colon made one start this week throwing a three-hit shutout, allowing just one walk and striking out four over nine innings. Colon has been a huge bright spot early on in the season for the Indians and the RubberDucks. Colon who was drafted in the 12th round in 2009 and missed the entire 2010 season with a right elbow strain has really come on this year for Akron. Colon this season in 10 appearances has a minuscule 2.30 earned run average and has only allowed 43 hits while striking out 40 in his 58.3 innings pitched. One thing that the Indians would love to see out of Colon is consistency with his control. Although better this season, when he has struggled in the past, it has been because of his command. Colon is definitely a prospect to keep an eye on in 2014.
Continuing the trend of the week the Carolina Mudcats struggled, enduring a six game losing streak which finally ended Thursday night in a 6-4 win over Wilmington. During the Mudcats losing streak the team’s offense completely disappeared. The Mudcats went through a stretch of not scoring a run in 28 straight innings played. One positive news for the offense other than finally scoring a run on Thursday was the return of star SS Erik Gonzalez who had been out with a finger injury. The Mudcats are now 23-28 on the season and currently sit in third place in their division, 11 games back of first place Myrtle Beach.
It’s very hard to pick a hitting star of the week when a team doesn’t score a run for 28 straight innings. With that said, catcher Alex Monsalve hit .308 with eight hits, one triple and four runs batted in. The 22-year old Monsalve was signed by the Indians as a non-drafted free agent in 2008. Monsalve was limited to only 25 games last year due to right elbow issues.
My pitching star of the week is right-handed starting pitcher Cole Sulser. There were plenty of options for pitchers this week for the Mudcats. Sulser made two starts, earning one of the team’s two wins. Sulser threw 12 innings giving up just nine hits, three unearned runs, just one walk and a whopping 18 strikeouts. Sulser made his professional debut last year for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers after being drafted in the 25th round in 2013 from Dartmouth College in the Ivy League. In 2012 while at Dartmouth, Sulser underwent Tommy John surgery but was able to work his way back and was named to the All-Ivy League Honorable Mention team in 2013. Sulser had been struggling some this year, making the jump from Short Season ball with Mahoning last year to High-A ball with Carolina in 2014. Hopefully he can keep the momentum going into his next start this upcoming week.
Just when you think Lake County had turned things around after winning five of seven games last week, their struggles returned reversing their record from the previous week and dropping five of the seven games. For the majority of the week the pitching was pretty solid while the bats were ice cold. Entering the week the Captains were hoping to climb out of last place but after the poor showing find themselves still in the basement with a record of 18-36 and 16.5 games back of first place South Bend.
The offense is struggling when the hitting star of the week catcher Eric Haase only played in three of the team’s seven games. Haase only participated in the three games due to he and his wife celebrating the birth of their first child. In the three games Haase played he still led the team during the week with four runs batted in, two homeruns and four runs scored. Haase, a 2011 7th round pick out of Devine Child High School in Michigan, currently leads the Midwest League in homeruns with 10 on the season after his two this week. Haase showed some power in 2013 while playing for the Captains, hitting 14 homeruns in 104 games played. Already this season Haase has his league leading 10 in just 34 games. Still just 21-years old, Haase has some of the best pop in the Indians minor league system. After spending the whole season last year at Lake County many thought Haase would be starting the year with the Carolina Mudcats. If Haase keeps producing like he is it will just be a matter of time.
The pitching stories all year have been dominated by the performances of both right-handed starting pitchers Adam Plutko and Robbie Aviles. This week left-handed pitcher Luis Lugo did enough to earn the pitching star of the week. Lugo just turned 20-years old in March, had his best performance of the year so far throwing five no-hit innings, allowing no runs, while walking three and striking out three. Lugo has great stuff as evident by his 47 strikeouts in just 39.2 innings pitched on the year. Lugo’s problem, the same as most young pitchers, has been consistency. Lugo is a big, young man standing at 6-foot, 5-inches, 200 lbs. was a non-drafted free agent in 2011 out of Venezuela. Lugo is another name to remember for all Indians fans as he could have a bright future in the organization.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer