Adam Plutko is a guy that you’ve probably not heard much of before. He’s not a top prospect. He doesn’t throw 98 mph. He wasn’t even in Double-A to start the 2015 season. After having a breakout season though, he’s going to be a name you’ll soon be familiar with.
Plutko was drafted by the Indians in the eleventh round of the 2013 draft. He initially was drafted by the Houston Astros in 2010, but opted to pitch for UCLA for a couple of years instead. Even though he was drafted a couple rounds later in 2013, he did choose to continue on in his baseball career with the Indians.
In his first season in the organization, Plutko split time between both A ball clubs in Lake County and Carolina. Between his two stints, he put up some alright numbers. He had an ERA of 4.03, a BB/9 of 1.8, K/9 of 8.7, and threw 149 2/3 innings. They were not the most impressive of numbers in his first season, but nothing terrible either. Usually, pitchers come out of college a bit more polished than when leaving high school, but Plutko struggled initially out of the gates.
He really started to take off in 2015.
He started the season with the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats where he dominated the league. In eight starts for the Hillcats, he had an ERA of 1.27, a record of 4-2, and a BB/9 of only 0.9, an absurdly low number of walks in that time. He only had a total of five walks during his time at High-A. Plutko thrived in his short stint in Virginia, but he was inevitably promoted to Double-A Akron where his hot season continued.
Unable to slow his roll, Plutko continued his dominance at the Double-A level as well. In 19 starts with the RubberDucks, Plutko posted a record of 9-5 with an ERA of 2.86. While he did walk more than his five batters at High-A, he still kept his BB/9 at a miniscule 1.8 and had a K/9 of 7.0. Plutko may not necessarily be a “strikeout pitcher,” he still has the ability to strike out a decent amount of batters.
While he may not be able to throw a searing fastball, Plutko is a master of his craft. He’s able to locate the ball well and keep control of the batter. Giving up a walk is something that he is not used to doing. His control is impeccable and he’s able to do this while only throwing at about 90-92 mph. This may not translate extremely well in the majors, but it has worked out for pitchers in the past like Bruce Chen or Jeremy Guthrie. His curveball and changeup are to die for, and are his go-to pitches.
When you can’t throw the heat, you have to rely on your offspeed for success. That is something that Plutko does very well.
The biggest downside to Plutko though is his tendency to draw a lot of fly balls. In 2015, he had a flyball ratio of 36.1%. Canal Park, the home of the Double-A Akron RubberDucks, tends to play very large. Fly balls seem to always die due to the way the park plays, which helped out Plutko quite a bit, as goes for the Carolina League as well. What is worrisome is how this will translate once he faces MLB caliber players. Even though Plutko has crazy good control, due to his lack of velocity, he does bring some troublesome thoughts of giving up too many extra base hits.
What does work in his favor though is that he kept his line drive rate down to 18.5%. When he does get the ball put in play, it’s usually a ground ball or a flyball. So if he’s put on a team that has incredibly good infield defense, say one manned by phenom defender Francisco Lindor perhaps, then maybe he can fair well in a field like that.
Either way, if Plutko can keep his fly balls to a minimum, he will have great success going forward.
Plutko was far and away the best pitcher in the Indians system in 2015, maybe just a tick below Cody Anderson prior to his promotion. It would be shocking to see anyone but him win the Bob Feller Award for being the best pitcher in the farm system. As a member of the RubberDucks this season, he was able to feed off of the great pitching that encompassed that rotation made up of Michael Clevinger, Ryan Merritt, and Shawn Morimando.
Due to extreme control, Plutko will get the chance to succeed with the Indians. As they have some great depth in the pitching department, this allows Plutko to get all of the seasoning he needs before taking the leap to the big time. He’ll likely start off the 2016 campaign in Double-A, but don’t expect him to stay there long. He’s intelligent, and very good at what he does. He certainly is a name that everyone should be getting to know.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN Photographer