A first glance at the 2015 High-A Lynchburg roster will pull your attention to the all outfield prospects, but don’t overlook the pitching. The pedigree of Adam Plutko may be amongst the most intriguing of all the pitchers in the Cleveland Indians farm system. Drafted in the 11th round following his junior year at UCLA in 2013, the third year professional from Upland, California now has 20 starts at the High-A level.
Plutko is a prospect on the rise, but this should be no surprise following his college career. The leader of a UCLA team that captured the Bruins first College World Series championship in 2013, that pinnacle was bracketed by his freshman experience. That season he was part of a Bruins’ staff that featured two current major league starters in Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole, and the Indians own Trevor Bauer as the team won the Pac-12 Conference. In Plutko’s sophomore year the team earned a birth in the College World Series and his junior year was capped by UCLA’s first national title on the diamond.
In UCLA’s championship run he went 2-0 and was on the mound for the Bruins to clinch the win. He was drafted by Cleveland, but was rested for the remainder of the 2013 season rather than being assigned to a team.
“Instead of going to Arizona” said Plutko, “I got to spend the time at home resting and building strength.”
He started 2014 at Low-A Lake County and averaged more than 11 strikeouts per inning in 10 starts prior to earning a promotion to the High-A Carolina Mudcats. This year he has returned to the High-A level with Lynchburg as the new Cleveland Indians affiliate in the Carolina League.
A rainout of his first scheduled start of the season pushed Plutko to open the first game of a pair in the quintessential minor league 7-inning double-headers. In addition Washington Nationals right fielder, Jayson Werth was on rehab assignment. In the bottom of the fourth inning Werth came up for his second at-bat. Previously he had hit into a routine ground out to second. This time the contest fell in favor of the hitter. Werth homered to left on a night where the wind was blowing out at an 18 mph clip. It would be the only run to mar a six-inning, compete game performance by Plutko. With an early season pitch count of about 88, Plutko otherwise handled Potomac well, striking out three, walking only one and giving up three hits, with the deciding pitch the home run given up to Werth.
“You just have to look at it as a learning experience,” said Plutko. “It happens and you cannot dwell on it, but just move on to the next batter.”
Plutko features a four pitch arsenal, consisting of a fastball that sits in the 88 – 92 mph range, a change-up, which could develop into a plus pitch, and he mixes in a slider and curveball to keep hitters off balance.
“He [Plutko] is more a command and control guy.” said catcher Eric Haase. “He elevates up and down. Throws a couple of different secondary pitches, for strikes.”
Described as a fly ball pitcher, this season 15 of 22 of his batted ball outs have been on the ground, which bodes well for future success by Plutko.
Plutko’s second start of the season was the Lynchburg clubs home opener, against the same Potomac Nationals. Working again with Haase as his catcher he used his command of all four pitches to effectively handle the P-Nats offense before reaching his pitch limit in the middle of the seventh inning. At that point he had retired eight strait Potomac hitters, tallying seven strikeouts to one walk, and had allowed only a single run on a first inning triple by Christopher Bostick followed by a sharp groundout to the first baseman that left no chance at cutting down the runner from third base. Unfortunately the Hillcats were unable to hold the lead in the top of the ninth inning, and Plutko received a no-decision for his efforts.
With a record of 0-1 in in two starts, with 12 2/3 innings pitched, an ERA of 1.42, 10 strikeouts to two walks he has been the team’s most effective pitcher. He will toe the rubber for his third start on Tuesday evening against the Fredrick Keys, looking to get the Hillcats back on the winning side of the ledger. As he continues to refine his command and mastery of his pitch selection, he will be one to watch and could be knocking on the door to a promotion sooner rather than later.
“I don’t look that far ahead.” says Plutko about if or when he might be promoted. “You pitch in the moment and do what you need to in the game and the rest will take care of itself.”