The Cleveland Indians have had quite a few outstanding pitching performances at the major league level this season. The good pitching has been contagious where it has spread throughout the minor league system as several pitchers from Triple-A Columbus to Low-A Lake County are having fantastic seasons.
One such pitcher is right-handed starter Adam Plutko.
Plutko, 22, is 2-0 with a 3.31 ERA in seven starts for Lake County. He has held opposing batters to a .221 batting average and in 35.1 innings has yet to yield a home run, has 49 strikeouts and just 10 walks. His last outing on Thursday, where he went 8.0 shutout innings, allowed three hits and no walks and racked up 13 strikeouts, earned him Midwest League Pitcher of the Week honors.
Plutko was selected in the 11th round of the draft last June though signed late and did not pitch as he recovered from a minor stress fracture to his shoulder blade. Needless to say he was chomping at the bit to get this season started and also make his pro debut.
"It [was] a little bit of a wait but I am happy for it to be here," Plutko said.
Last season, Plutko helped guide the UCLA Bruins to their first national championship in baseball. He was the team’s ace and set a school record for most career postseason wins as a starter with seven.
"It was nice to go out on top," Plutko beamed. "With all of my friends and roommates and everything like that, it was the best way to go out with the first national championship in baseball at UCLA and the 110th for the school."
It was not just going out as a champion that was so thrilling for Plutko but the company he got to enjoy it with that made it so special. Over his three-year career at UCLA his teammates became family to him and made it all the sweeter that they could all enjoy their crowning achievement together.
"I mean, just playing every day with literally your best friends, I don’t think that is something that is going to happen anymore in my baseball career," Plutko said. "That is something I will always look back on fondly. I had three other roommates, Pat Valaika who is with the Rockies, Brian Carroll, who is still at school, and Nick Vander Tuig, who is with the Giants. All four of us were captains on the team along with one other guy Ryan Deeter. We roomed together since we were freshmen and all the way through our junior year, so it was special to say the least."
While UCLA was in the Super Regionals trying to punch its ticket to Omaha and go to the College World Series, the Major League Baseball Draft kicked off the first week of June. It was a bittersweet moment for Plutko because he really could not soak in the whole draft experience because of its timing, as his team was playing such important games.
Last year was the first time the draft was moved to the weekend, with the first two rounds on Thursday, rounds three through ten on Friday and the rest of the draft on Saturday. In years past, the draft typically occurred on a Tuesday when it was one day or was Tuesday through Thursday when it was changed to a three-day event. College baseball games are typically only played over the weekend, so the change made it tough for players to balance their focus between their team and personal aspirations.
"It was difficult," Plutko said. "That is something I really think Major League Baseball should take a look at. It may be great for high school athletes as they are done, but for the college athletes when you are in the middle of finals and in the middle of the most important part of your season, it is not easy. It is a huge distraction and I think it takes away from the college game a little bit. It was a unique experience and a stressful one. I made it out alive and am happy to be an Indian."
Plutko had to wait until the third day of the draft on Saturday to find out he had been selected by the Indians in the 11th round. He was having breakfast with his teammates when he got the news.
"We had just won on Friday night so we were all at breakfast," Plutko recalled. "I had gotten a couple of phones calls the night before saying ‘we might take you’ and things like that. Honestly, I was prepared to go back to school as I wasn’t even thinking about Major League Baseball. The Indians took me and it just kind of worked out that we communicated after the season was over and it worked out for the best."
Plutko was actually surprised the Indians selected him.
"It was a surprise actually," Plutko said. "The Indians were the only team I did not get a phone call from [the night before], so when they took me it definitely was a surprise. But as soon as I found out about the organization and how much they want to develop pitchers that is when I got excited about it."
The Indians and Plutko agreed to table talks about signing until after his team finished its postseason run, something that Plutko was very impressed with from the Indians.
"We were still playing so they were very respectful of that," Plutko said. "I wanted to make sure I was 100 percent for my school. We communicated about a week after the championship. We had all of the different celebrations. We went to Dodger Stadium and the Jay Leno show. We did everything. We communicated after it all kind of slowed down and I talked to [Indians Amateur Scouting Director] Brad Grant and my agent as well and we came to terms and got the process started."
About a year removed from the draft, Plutko is now working to polish his approach to pitching by refining his mechanics, better repeating his delivery and being more consistent with his solid four-pitch arsenal. He features an 88-91 mph fastball and has three solid average secondary offerings in a changeup, curveball and slider.
Most of all, Plutko just wants to get used to his routine as a starter since it is different from the one he had in college.
"In college, you are on a seven-day rotation, pitching once a week," Plutko said. "So really it is just getting used to the five-day rotation and getting the routine down in between starts. That is the big thing is just getting used to this whole pro lifestyle."
As for any major goals this season, Plutko has but one and that is to just concentrate on the task at hand and not get ahead of himself.
With the way he is pitching in the early going at Lake County, a promotion to High-A Carolina could be in short order — though Plutko will leave that up to his performance and the powers that be to make that decision.
"Hey man, I am just going to control what I can and leave that to the front office."