Ht./Wt.: 6'3"/192 lbs.
In 2011, fresh off a season in which they were the runners-up in the College World Series, UCLA went 35-24, won the Pac 10, and eventually lost to UC Irvine in the NCAA Division I Tournament. Their top two arms, Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, both went in the top three overall picks of the MLB Draft, and everyone figured UCLA would have to take a step back and reload before they could compete again nationally.
Only then a funny thing happened. Sophomore starter Adam Plutko, who had been drafted in the 6th round by the Houston Astros out of Glendora High School in California, began to surprise everyone. Tehe Bruins won 48 games, a share of the Pac-10 crown, and the NCAA Los Angeles Regional and Los Angeles Super Regional, earning a trip to the College World Series, where they lost to Florida State and eventual champion Arizona.
This year, Plutko returned as the unquestioned ace of the staff. A classic fastball-changeup-slider pitcher who can mix in a curveball from time to time, Plutko works his stuff up in the zone. He's a classic flyball pitcher (a style that tends to favor college pitchers). It's interesting that he was in the same UCLA rotation as Trevor Bauer, because their mechanics and styles are extremely similar. Unfortunately for Plutko, he doesn't have Bauer's stuff, but the mechanics here are extremely sound.
The knock on Plutko is his control. Over 90 innings this season, he's walked 25 batters -- and that's a step up from 2012, when he walked 47 in 119.2 innings. But that owes partly to the fact that he pitches up and away, which is a zone that reportedly gets fewer strike calls in the college ranks, and it's an area where many coaches tell their kids not to swing. A lot of scouts think that more aggressive batters, such as those found in the pros, could help bail Plutko out, even if he doesn't improve his command, which he's likely to do.
Middle of the rotation starter. His stuff isn't good enough, and he isn't projectable enough, to ever be a high strikeout pitcher. But if he can increase his command, and if hitters are aggressive against him in he pro game, he can lower his walk numbers and increase his strikeouts. It's a tough road to hoe, but Trevor Bauer may be the perfect example of his ceiling, albeit Plutko is destined to have lower strikeout rates. In the right ballpark - Dodger Stadium or Petco Park, for instance - his style of pitching could lead to some good results.
Back of the rotation starter. I think of Adam Plutko a little like Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie walks too many guys, doesn't strike enough guys out, and induces too many flyballs, too many of which leave the park. Yet, he's still able to be somewhat effective. Plutko's mechanics are sound enough that he could become an innings eater, consistently hitting the 200 mark.
Projected Draft Round
It's hard to tell; there are those who think he could go in the last half of the first round, but to me it's more likely that he falls until at least midway through the second, if not into the third round.
Quotes and Video
He doesn't have front-line stuff, but he by no means will be an afterthought on draft day. His experience and successes pitching in one of the toughest conferences in college baseball will no doubt draw some notice, as will his ceiling as a mid-rotation starter.
Plutko's delivery is pretty good all around. If I had to nitpick, I'd just say that he seems to extend at the pitching elbow a bit more than I'd like after ball release and doesn't have the best forearm pronation in his recovery phase. This could lead to irritation to the elbow and eventual bone chips due to repeated collisions of the bones in the back of the elbow and the forearm. However, it's not a large mechanical flaw as it pertains to ulnar collateral ligament damage, which is the major issue that most teams want to avoid.
The truth is I will probably like this guy more in pro ball than I have ever liked him in college. I understand how stupid young hitters are, and how pitchers like this guy tend to continue developing into seasoned attackers. At some point, the good ones realize the limitations of their stuff and begin to attack hitters where they are shocked a guy like him would attack them. Lew Burdette is sort of the patron saint of crazy-minded pitch-to-contact right-handers on this site — fearless guys who would throw anything any time, at your head and at your feet, keeping as Red Smith said, his pitches as low as his intentions. The more Plutko develops into that guy who cuts the ball, makes it run and sink, moves the box around, changes speeds, and coaxes bad swings out of good hitters, the better he’ll be.