Lynchburg’s Zach Plesac Taking the Path Set Out for Him
David Freier | On 07, Jul 2018
It is not often that a player marks two rare baseball achievements before becoming a professional. For High-A Lynchburg Hillcats starting pitcher Zach Plesac, this happened in high school. The nephew of former three-time All-Star reliever Dan Plesac went to the mound for the first in-conference game of the 2012 season for Crown Point, Indiana, High School. In the ninth inning, their opposition, Chesterton, led 2-1 from a combination of a hit batter and errors, but had no hits.
“I came to bat in the bottom of the ninth and hit a three-run homer over the left field wall,” recalled Plesac. “It was just incredible. It was one of those things you dream about.”
With one swing of the bat, Plesac achieved two milestones. Few ballplayers ever even have the chance to pitch a no-hitter or hit a game-winning home run. Plesac did both in the same game.
The 6’3” righty grew up with a love for sports. With a left-handed twin brother, the two regularly played catch in their backyard, together and with their dad. Plesac went on to play football and basketball in high school as well as baseball, but baseball was always fun and the one sport he was deeply passionate about.
“Growing up, watching my uncle in the Big Leagues…I’ve been in love with baseball from the start,” said Plesac.
Focused on going to college, he knew he wanted to pursue baseball as his career. Looking at a number of programs like Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Kent State, in the end he decided to stay closer to home and attended Ball State University.
“I saw the program was on the rise, there was a lot of upside going into that school,” he said about the Cardinals baseball program.
Head coach Rich Maloney, a former minor leaguer in the Braves system, had taken over the program while Plesac was a high school senior. Maloney directed the team to a winning record for the first time since 2009. A new stadium was on tap for Plesac’s sophomore year, and being close to home and financially viable made it the right decision.
In his freshman season, he did not expect to get much work, but got an early season opportunity that put him in the closer role. He was successful, nailing down six saves for the Cardinals, and this got him an opportunity to start.
“Halfway through the season, I became a starter and was the closer,” Plesac said. “I would close Friday and Saturday, and then start on Sunday.”
In 25 games, including six starts, Plesac posted a 12-2 record, a 2.11 ERA, and struck out 67 in 85.1 innings, all to go along with the six saves he earned. This performance earned him Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year. He was on his way, in pursuit of his dream of a career in baseball.
“I think the path was chosen by God. I believe in my faith, that everything led me on my way to do that,” said Plesac about his success.
After pitching exclusively as a starter in his sophomore and junior years, he was selected by Cleveland in the 12th round of the 2016 draft. His mid-level draft status was likely due to the fact that he had Tommy John surgery about a month prior to the draft.
Unlike most newly signed players, Plesac did not report to a team. Instead, he went to Arizona for rehab. This would continue into the start of the 2017 season, where his first action as a professional would come on the mound for the rookie-level Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the New York-Penn League.
He took advantage of this down time to complete his degree in Communication Studies at Ball State. What could have been negative – the long recovery from surgery – turned out positive and he reached another achievement, that of the college graduate.
Plesac pitched effectively for the Scrappers, getting promoted to Low-A Lake County at the short-season league’s All-Star break. He finished the season having pitched in 14 games, starting to get his form back after the long layoff from surgery. This paved the way to opening the current season with Lynchburg.
“One thing I know is you don’t want to rush back from that surgery [Tommy John],” said Hillcats pitching coach Tony Arnold. “Most of the guys who do end up with forearm issues.”
Though he has already surpassed his outings total, taking the mound 16 times this season, Plesac is not rushing. With a four-seam and a cross-seam fastball, coupled with a slider, curve, and change-up, he packs an arsenal that can keep hitters off balance.
At Lynchburg, his most impressive outing was a 74-pitch masterpiece against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Allowing only two hits in the Sunday afternoon contest on May 6, Plesac kept the Pelicans batters from generating any offense.
“I noticed I was getting ahead of guys and could attack,” he said. “The hitters were being super aggressive and I was basically pitching for contact.”
The strategy worked. Of his 74 pitches, 55 were for strikes, even though he would only strike out three batters. He allowed no walks, letting his defense make the plays. The biggest threat was a sixth inning double by the Pelicans’ number nine hitter Daniel Spingola. With two outs already posted, Plesac got the next batter to fly out and that was the end for Myrtle Beach. Lynchburg would plate three runs in the bottom of the sixth and Plesac cruised to victory.
“I got the complete game, but we didn’t have any errors. It was a team effort in a crazy game,” said Plesac.
After one more start for the Hillcats, he got a promotion to AA Akron, where he posted a 2-1 record and a 2.25 ERA in three starts for the RubberDucks. A series of four double-headers scheduled over one week in late May brought his return to High-A Lynchburg so that the team would not burn out its pitching staff.
“He’s a very hard worker and a good competitor on the mound,” says Arnold. “Command of all his pitches has continued to improve and his velocity jumped up a couple miles an hour, helping him to throw better.”
Plesac will continue to build on this success as he continues the return from arm surgery.
The Communications Studies major enjoys reading and hanging out in quiet places, particularly by open water, when time permits. He is currently reading The Culture Code, a book about building successful groups. This is tailor-made for baseball, where individual success must be combined with teamwork to produce success in the form of victories.
“I think it is something that is broad enough that I can use in any aspect of my career,” Plesac said about his Communications degree.
He has thought ahead to a time when he might like to have a talk show, something where he could interact with athletes or celebrities. That remains an idea for the future. Right now, though, he is focused on baseball, and following where that path leads.
Photo: Ken Inness/MiLB.com