Catcher, Binghamton Mets (AA)
2014 prospect ranking: #8
2013 prospect ranking: #13
Age (2014 season age): 23
Acquired: Supp. 1st round, 2012
Date(s) seen: 4/10/14, 4/12/14 @ New Hampshire Fisher Cats: 2-9, 2B, K
2014 so far: 30 PA, .268/.333/.357, 3 K/2 BB
The short of it: Plawecki mashed his way across two A-ball levels last season, but the bat is going to have to carry a fringy defensive profile behind the plate.
The long of it: Plawecki has been a bit of a prospect pundit (and PECOTA) darling recently. Baseball America ranked him #5 in what has turned into a pretty good player development system, and sure, I get it. Plawecki is going to hit. He has a quick, compact swing that is built to spray line drives into the gap, and he has enough bat speed and physical strength to barrel major league velocity. On Saturday night he pulled 95 for a double without a problem.
Plawecki's calling card at both the amateur level and early in his professional career has been his control of the strike zone. He draws walks and doesn't strike out. However, I don't know that I see the walk rate holding up against better pitching. Dude likes to swing and is agressive in and around the zone. In A-ball the walk rate probably had a fair bit to due with lower-level arms wanting to avoid him (or just being generally less able to throw strikes). To be fair it is difficult to get him to chase, though Thursday night he looked susceptible to better armside breaking balls, but he's not up there looking to take four wide ones. The short, flat swing isn't really built for power either. Plawecki is strong enough that I imagine he could run into 10 home runs or so off inner half fastballs, but I don't see power being a major calling card at the major league level. So from an offensive standpoint, much of Plawecki's value is going to be batting-average driven. And he'll probably have to hit .280 to play everyday.
The reason I think Plawecki will need to show a plus hit tool is the defensive profile is still problematic. The arm is the major issue. He's been consistently 2.1-2.2 on the stopwatch over three seasons of looks. The ball just doesn't have any zip out of the hand and tends to tail to the first base side, like a pitcher who isn't finishing his delivery. He's also not quick out of the crouch due to his size (though I think he's dropped some weight since I saw him last April). When everything is aligned, he can show you an average pop time. He popped 2.0 for me for the first time ever on Thursday, but it still wasn't enough to get a plus runner. Now, an accurate 2.0 is fine. The good runners are always going to get theirs, but it at least keeps everyone else honest. I just don't see that coming consistently from Plawecki. He's also a little stiff on balls in the dirt. He got five-holed on Thursday, and while he wasn't tested laterally in this series, that has been an issue in the past. On the positive side of the ledger, his framing has improved, and I've always liked his game-calling.
Historically I have been a bit lower on Plawecki than others, and that is because teams tend to be less willing to carry below-average defense at catcher then they are at other spots. If Plawecki can't catch every day, that means a move to first, which would make him a non-prospect. And the bad defensive catchers you do see around baseball tend to have some serious pop (Rosario, Buck, Doumit, Arencibia), and Plawecki doesn't have that tool in his bag. Offense-first backups are also fairly rare. I'm not saying Plawecki won't hit-- I really do like the swing-- just that it's very difficult to be a .280 hitter in the majors. There is more risk in his profile than is commonly thought..
The optimistic projection: Plawecki hits enough to carry a fringy defensive profile behind the plate and turns into a solid, everyday catcher.
The pessimistic projection: MLB arms gets him to swing-and-miss enough that the batting average doesn't support the below-average glove.
What to look for during the rest of the 2014 season: How agressively the league runs on his arm, and whether he can maintain an average walk rate against Double-A arms given his approach at the plate