Adam 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 m.p.h. as a freshman. Plutko saw his velocity drop down to around 90 m.p.h. 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 because he 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. During his first professional season this year, Plutko proved to be more than capable of handling minor league bats in the (Low-A) Midwest League. Despite having a 3.93 earned run average for Lake County, based mostly on one bad start, Plutko was dominant striking out 66 batters in only 52.2 innings pitched. During his time with the Captains he was second in the Midwest league with those 66 strikeouts, and at the time was in the top 10 in all of the minor leagues. Plutko struck out 10 or more batters twice in his 11 professional starts, including a high of 13 on the eighth of May while with the Captains. Plutko was promoted to the (Hi-A) Carolina Mudcats on May 29 after proving he was ready for the next level. Since the move up in competition, Plutko hasn’t found the same success that he did in the Carolina League than he did in the Midwest League with the Captains. In his first eight starts with the Mudcats, Plutko’s earned run average sat at 4.83 and his strikeout numbers took a dive from what he was averaging in the Midwest League. In his last two starts for the Mudcats, Plutko has looked like the dominant pitcher he was earlier in the season. This week in his two appearances Plutko went 1-0 with 13 innings pitched while allowing just one run, walking one and striking out 14 good for a 0.69 earned run average. If Plutko continues to build off the success of his last two starts for the Mudcats he should be able to move quickly through the Indians system due to the fact that he has a polished college arm and great approach, walking just 22 batters while striking out 111 now on the year. Plutko’s ceiling by most scouts is a solid fourth or fifth starter in Major Leagues at best. Hopefully Plutko will someday make it to Cleveland and continue to prove many baseball minds wrong along the way.
The Columbus Clippers had a record of 4-1 on the week. The four wins came in a four game sweep on the road of the first place Indianapolis Indians. The Clippers had Monday through Wednesday off for the All-Star break. The Clippers had moved into a tie for first place before losing on Thursday at home to the same Indianapolis team. At 53-47 the Clippers are only one game out of first place.
The hitting star of the week, outfielder Tyler Holt. Holt had just returned to Columbus after making his major league debut with the Indians as a defensive replacement and did not receive an at bat in a very brief stay. In a short week because of the Triple-A all-star break, Holt hit .471 with eight hits in 17 at bats. Holt scored seven runs with three doubles, three walks, and four stolen bases. Holt is having a breakout season in 2014 hitting .307. On the year he currently leads the Indians minor leagues in runs with 59, in stolen bases with 26, walks with 63, and a .433 on base percentage. Holt was selected by the Indians in the 10th round of the 2010 draft out of Florida State. Holt is known as a hard-nosed gritty ball player who is a great defender who can play all three outfield positions, possesses some speed with a great eye at the plate and looks to be a solid major league fourth outfielder if not better.
The pitching star of the week is right-handed pitcher, Danny Salazar. In Salazar’s start this week he threw five and two-thirds shutout innings, giving up just three hits, walked five and struck out five. While the walks are a bit of a concern lately over his last five starts his numbers have been pretty impressive in throwing 31.0 innings Salazar has just allowed 22 hits, eight earned runs, walking 17 and striking out 39 while sporting a 2.32 earned run average. Salazar is starting to show some of the promise he delivered on last year and a call-up for either a spot start or more with the Indians is probably not too far off. 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.
Akron won four of their five games played this week with manager David Wallace doing a great job of holding the team together with the rash of injuries of late. The RubberDucks. with a 57-41 record, sit just one game behind the first place Richmond Flying Squirrels.
The hitting star of the week for Akron was local Kent State University product, outfielder Anthony Gallas. Gallas’s magical season just keeps moving along. This week in his team’s five games, Gallas hit .278 with three runs scored, a double, two home runs, seven runs batted in and three walks. Since being promoted to Double-A Akron, Gallas has hit for an incredible .352 average spanning 32 games. On the season Gallas leads all of the Indians minor leagues in hits with 105, doubles 32, total bases 186, slugging percentage .538. He is second in homeruns with 15 and OPS at .886 OPS and tied for second in runs batted in with 55. Gallas has never put up numbers like this in his previous four minor league seasons. His career high in a season for homeruns was eight, runs batted in 53, and his best average was .272. At age 26, is it a fluke or is he just a late bloomer?
Akron’s pitching star of the week is right-handed starting pitcher Cody Anderson. Anderson made one start this week throwing six shutout innings giving up four hits, and striking out four while earning the win. Anderson came into the year with high expectations after being named as the Indians Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013. However, 2014 has been a huge disappointment to date. Anderson is 4-8 on the season with a 4.76 earned run average and a 1.48 WHIP and striking out just 63 in 96.1 innings pitched. Last year Anderson made 23 starts for the high-A Carolina Mudcats and three more starts for Double-A Akron at the end of the season. In his 26 starts of 2013, Anderson went 9-4 struck out 122 batters in 136 innings and finished with a 2.65 earned run average. Anderson was the Indians 14th round pick in 2011 out of Feather River College as a relief pitcher. With his size, strength and delivery, the Indians felt he could make the transition to be a starter. Anderson has not let them down by turning himself into one of their best pitching prospects—number four by MLB.com. While Anderson has struggled some at Double-A this year he still possess great stuff; routinely hitting mid 90’s with his fastball with a nice curveball and pretty good control.
With four wins in the six games played this week the first place Carolina Mudcats at (17-11) now lead the second place Myrtle Beach Pelicans by two games. The Mudcats have been playing tremendous baseball in the second half of the Carolina league so far with their offense really picking the production of late.
The hitting star of the week is a familiar face for the Carolina Mudcats, shortstop prospect Erik Gonzalez. Gonzalez recently had a short promotion to Double A Akron filling in for an injured Francisco Lindor but was sent back to the Mudcats once Lindor was healthy. Since his return Gonzalez has been on fire and is currently on an 11-game hitting streak. This week while continuing to extend the streak Gonzalez hit .417 with 10 hits in 24 at bats, scoring six runs, with a double, a triple, a homerun, five runs batted in and two stolen bases. Gonzalez has been a key cog in an improved Mudcats offense in their second half of the season so far. Since signing as a non-drafted free agent in August of 2008, Gonzalez was never considered much of a prospect until a breakout year in 2013. Gonzalez, known primarily for his defense, had a tremendous jump in his offensive production last year so much so the Indians added him to their 40-man roster, despite never playing a game above High-A Carolina. Gonzalez had an incredible 53 extra base hits out of 129 hits with 32 doubles, 12 triples and nine homeruns in 2013. Gonzalez is proving that his breakout last season is not a fluke with a strong start to his 2014 season currently hitting .292 with 16 doubles, seven triples, four homeruns, 15 stolen bases and 49 runs batted in through 76 games.
Carolina’s pitching star of the week is left handed starting pitcher Shawn Morimando who just was promoted to Double-A Akron on Friday. In Morimando’s only start this week he threw six and one-third innings giving up six hits, one run and one walk while striking out five. Both left-handed starting pitchers Ryan Merritt and Morimando have made for a nice one two punch for the Mudcats. While Merritt hasn’t received most of the accolades this year, Morimando has been no slouch. Morimando is currently 9-3 with a 2.81 and has only allowed 77 hits in 102.1 innings pitched with opponents only hitting a .204 average against him. Morimando was a 19th round selection in 2011 by the Indians out of Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Morimando pitched all of last year with the Mudcats holding his own as a 20 year old. Now 21, Morimando will look to continue his success for the Double A RubberDucks that he has already achieved for the Mudcats this year.
The Lake County Captains had a strong week winning four of their six games which is a great sign after last week’s struggles. The Captains 15-11 record is remarkable considering how bad they played the first half of the season. Despite the strong record they find themselves in third place behind both South Bend and West Michigan who are tied for first at 17-11. Only two games back, the Captains position themselves for a chance to win a second half crown
The Captains hitting star of the week is top prospect Clint Frazier. The 19-year old former Baseball America, High School player of the year and the Indians first round draft pick in 2013, Frazier has been one of the hottest hitters in all of the minor leagues so far in July. For the week Frazier hit .542 with 13 hits in just 24 at bats while scoring eight runs adding a triple, three homeruns, eight runs batted in, three walks and a stolen base. Frazier is also on a current 10-game hitting streak on which he is hitting .475 with four homeruns, 11 runs scored and 10 runs batted in over that span. Frazier is one of the youngest players in the Midwest League and just a year into professional ball from high school, and his early year struggles were worrisome but not unexpected. Frazier possesses tremendous bat speed and tons of raw power at the plate but still is a way to go to become a polished finished product. Hopefully Frazier can continue to have the success that he has shown of late and start to show why the Indians made him the number five overall pick of the 2013 MLB first year player draft.
The Captains pitching star of the week is right handed pitcher, Jordan Milbrath, who made one appearance and pitched six strong innings, giving up just three hits, one run, three walks and five strikeouts. The 22 year old, 6-foot 6-inch Milbrath, was a 35th round pick of last year’s MLB first year player draft out of Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Milbrath really started to open some eyes with a strong showing to start the season in which he had a 1.04 earned run average with opponents hitting for a .194 average in his first seven starts of the year and even made the Midwest All-Star team. However right before the All-Star game Milbrath started to struggle mightily, and in his next nine starts he put up an ugly 6.10 earned run average while opponents hit for a .301 average against. Milbrath over his last two starts has seemed to find the form he displayed early on in the year in allowing just one run in his last 12 innings pitched over his last two starts. Milbrath will hope to stay on the successful end to his topsy turvy season in his next start.
The Mahoning Valley Scrappers split their six games this week winning three and losing three. Normally this would obviously be considered an average week, but the Scrappers had to be ecstatic coming off a week in which they lost all seven games they played. Still sitting in the cellar of their division at 11-22, the Scrappers find themselves already 13 games out of first with only 33 games played on the season.
The Scrappers hitting star of the week is the Indians 2014 10th round draft pick out of UC Davis, second baseman Steven Patterson. Patterson hit .423 on the week with 11 hits in 26 at bats while scoring five runs, four runs batted in and added an incredible six doubles. Patterson, only 5’9’’, hit over .320 in his last two years at UC Davis, and in both years walked more than he struck. Patterson possess a great eye at the plate, and as a Junior in 2013 he was the seventh hardest player to strike out in the nation in all of Division-1. Patterson, a left handed hitter who throws right, has a consistent approach at the plate with quick hands and is an interesting player to follow despite being a Senior sign out of College.
The Scrappers pitching star of the week is right handed starting pitcher Kieran Lovegrove. Lovegrove’s one start this week was made at Fenway Park for a game against the Lowell Spinners who are the Red Soxs short season affiliate. In the start he went four and two-thirds innings allowing zero earned runs, walked two and struck out two. The 19 year old Lovegrove got off to a horrid start to the season sporting a 10.47 earned run average in eight and two-thirds innings while giving up 14 hits 10 earned runs and 10 walks in his first three starts. Since then in his next three starts he has made a 180 and been much better with a 2.08 earned run average in 13 innings giving up 11 hits, just three earned runs and nine strikeouts. Lovegrove grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa but moved to California when he was five years old. He was drafted by the Indians in the third round of the 2012 MLB First Year Player Draft out of California’s Mission Viejo High School. Just 19-years old, Lovegrove will need to improve on his consistency on the mound but is a pitcher with a lot of upside and exciting potential.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer