One of my favorite pitchers in the minors right now is Adam Plutko of the Cleveland Indians. He doesn't throw 98 MPH or stand out highly on prospect lists, though the latter point is starting to change somewhat given his strong performance in 2015. While I love a 98 MPH fastball as much as anyone, the guys who can pitch well and succeed at lower velocities always intrigue me. Many of these types succeed in A-ball but have problems when they reach Double-A. Picking out the ones who can make it work at higher levels is a big part of hunting for sleeper prospects.
Plutko is less obscure than most of the sleeper types so there's less excuse to miss him. A three-year starting pitcher at UCLA, he went 29-10 in 52 career starts, posting a 2.26 ERA with a 272/101 K/BB in 351 innings from 2011 to 2013. Scouts were obviously extremely familiar with him since he was successful for one of the best college programs in the country. He was generally seen as a fourth or fifth round talent despite lack of plus velocity, but as the 2013 draft progressed his name didn't get called on the first day and didn't get called on the second, to the point where it was plausible he would return for his senior year.
He finally was picked on day three in the 11th round by the Indians, though it cost $300,000 (fifth round money) to sign him. He pitched fairly well in 2014 (4.03 ERA in A-ball, but with an excellent 144/30 K/BB in 150 innings). Although it didn't show up obviously in the surface stats, Plutko saw a tick upward in velocity last summer, working at 88-92 rather than the 87-90 marks he showed in college.
That was a sign of things to come for 2015. He opened with eight starts for High-A Lynchburg this spring, going 4-2, 1.27 with a 47/5 K/BB in 50 innings, 30 hits allowed. Promoted to Double-A Akron in May, he remained very effective with a 2.86 ERA, 90/23 K/BB in 116 innings, 96 hits allowed. He passed the critical Double-A transition with flying colors.
Plutko is a craftsman on the mound. His fastball still isn't a blazer but it is good-enough at 90-92 given how well he locates it. He has the full necessary arsenal of secondary pitches. The change-up is probably the best pitch but both his curveball and slider are effective and his pitching instincts are among the best in the minors. He stays healthy and has boosted his innings workload every year since his freshman season without any ill effect; indeed, his stuff gets better the more he pitches.
The main sabermetric caution flag is a strong fly ball tendency that might, in theory, make him overly vulnerable to gopher balls, although that hasn't been a big problem yet and his efficiency helps limit damage from those that do occur. He gave up just 12 homers this year and eight of them were solo shots.
Although he projects physically as a fourth starter, the 24-year-old Plutko should be one of our favorites in that category. He has the makeup of an ace pitcher and needs to be watched closely.