You could call Zach Plesac’s rise to Cleveland Indians starter meteoric if you wanted.
Between surgery and recovery this is only his second season as a professional starter, and if not for tragedy and bad luck he likely wouldn’t even sniff the Tribe rotation. Like a reverse Larry David, though, everything kind of went right for him, at the expense of others. So he’s here, and while he might not be amazing, that doesn’t mean he’s hard to root for.
You look at the numbers, and absent the solid 3.50 ERA he’s literally barely average as a pitcher. He’s only got 50 innings of major league pitching under his belt so leaping to conclusions is a bit unfair, but between the 18.7% strikeout rate, the 9.4% walk rate and the FIP north of 5.0, there are warning signs of a regression to a much meaner mean. He was better than that in the minors, showing a 30.7% strikeout rate in Columbus this year before being called up — and 24.8% in Akron before that — so there’s hope that he’ll figure something out.
He probably will, too. He’s got a neat arsenal, flashing 96 and 97 on the gun and featuring a changeup as his main secondary offering right now. That’s rare in this age of the slider (though he does throw that 18.5% of the time, compared to 19% for the change, so we’re splitting hairs) and will hopefully lead to great things for Plesac.
Even if it doesn’t, though, players like him are what makes this shadow rebuild so much fun. We haven’t heard much in the way of glowing reviews from the deeper reaches of the Indians farm system the last couple years, so seeing Plesac blast right to the majors, or Jefry Rodriguez come over from the Nationals organization and make an impact in his own right, it’s exciting. It makes you wonder when this run of the Indians’ will really end. For the third consecutive year they’ve got a different Cy Young caliber ace, this time in Shane Bieber, and despite losing Kluber and Carrasco the rotation is chock full of solid arms. Maybe not to the level that it was a year or so ago, but it’s amazing what the Indians have been able to pull out of the minors.
Words like “gritty” and “gutty” and other useless synonyms get tossed around when you describe less than elite players, particularly pitchers. Watching Plesac is a pleasure in that way, though. His stuff is probably going to get him there sooner rather than later, but right now he’s just figuring out the game, just trying to get the next out, like a young bird taking its first flight. Little tweaks like the extra little hitch in his delivery he added, adjustments in pitch mix and more study of his opponents, these will make him a very good pitcher for the Indians for years to come. That, and maybe a few murmured words from Trevor Bauer about how to get more (or less?) rotation on his change or how to make his slider turn into a frisbee, that’s what will make him more than just a random name.
You wonder if he’s going to get the chance, of course. If everything starts going right for the Indians and Kluber and Carrasco return to full form, the rotation is full. Bauer might get moved in the winter — or in the next couple days — but if the big guys do come back and the front office is all in, Plesac is out. Which means we have to wait for him, and he get the chance to destroy minor league hitters again. But it’s pretty great to know that even if — when, really — one of the big guys does leave, there’s hope on the farm. That it’s already someone we know and love? That’s just a bonus.