On June 11, 2016, a bit past noon, the Mets selected a talented right-handed pitcher from Morehead, Kentucky with their 11th round selection, the 340th player selected overall. Graduating from Rowan County High School in a mere few weeks, Cameron Planck had an extremely dominant senior season, posting a 0.38 ERA in 74.1 innings, and cemented his status as being one of the best high school pitchers to come from northeastern Kentucky.
The Mets had liked Planck and tried to work out a pre-draft deal with him, but the right-hander refused. The organization offered him the equivalent of third round money, roughly $563,100 to $813,500, but he declined, citing the sum as below what it would take for him to be bought out of his commitment to the University of Louisville. The Mets drafted Planck regardless, and kept up their pursuit rather than give up. When Anthony Kay, the second of two first-round selections the Mets had in 2016, showed signs of UCL fraying in his post-draft medicals, the Mets were able to sign him to a deal for $1.1 million, roughly $872,000 below slot value. Using the savings from Kay’s underslot deal, the Mets had enough financial flexibility to offer Planck a deal for $1,000,001, which he accepted.
As is common practice, the Mets decided to shut the right-hander down for the remainder of the 2016 season, citing his age and his high school workload. He returned home to Morehead for a few weeks layover and the headed down to St. Lucie for the Mets’ instructional league. After giving up a hit to the newly signed quarterback-turned-outfielder Tim Tebow, and picking Mets’ rookie sensation Steven Matz’ brain, among other things, Planck returned home to prepare for the 2017 season, what would be his first as a professional.
The road to the major leagues is unfortunately never a simple or easy one, and Cameron Planck hit his bumps early.
In early June, during extended spring training, the right-hander began feeling shoulder pain and weakness. It was discovered that he tore the interior capsule in his shoulder, and after being shut down, the 19-year-old right-hander opted to undergo shoulder surgery to repair it. With a recovery time of 6-10 months, he would not be able to pitch at all in 2017, ending his ending his debut season before it even began. The process of getting back on the field was long and arduous, but Planck successfully rehabbed his shoulder, and on July 2nd, 2018, the right-hander took the mound for the GCL Mets in the fifth inning during a regulation game against the GCL Cardinals. Replacing Ricky Knapp, who was rehabbing with the GCL Mets, Planck began his minor league career with a walk to DH Raffy Ozuna. He then struck out second baseman Cole Kreuter swinging to record his first professional strikeout. Joe Freiday, the Cardinals’ catcher, came to the plate and singled on a ground ball that through the infield an into left. Playing it safe, manager David Davalillo removed the right-hander from the game.
More than a month would pass before the 20-year-old appeared in another game, as the Mets elected to give him plenty of rest. On August 3rd, the right-hander started the GCL Mets’ game against the GCL Marlins. The first batter he faced, right fielder Corey Bird, flied out to right for the first out of the ballgame. The next batter, shortstop Osiris Johnson, reached first thanks to a fielding error by third baseman Cristopher Pujols. Having faced two batters, Planck was then removed from the game, with reports circulating shortly thereafter that his shoulder was in too much pain to continue. All in all, he appeared in two games and threw a total of 0.1 innings, facing a total of five batters, allowing a hit, walking a batter, and striking out a batter.
Tests and MRIs on his shoulder determined that Planck had no new injuries, no structural damage of his shoulder, and that the pain and flare ups he had felt during the season were simply a normal process of working through the shoulder surgery that he had in 2017. Keeping himself in baseball shape, Planck received a clean bill of health in 2019 and pitched through extended spring training looking to make up for lost developmental time. He was assigned to the Kingsport Mets, and on July 13th, made his 2019 season debut. Relieving Nixon Silva in the fourth inning, Planck faced three Greeneville Reds batters, getting shortstop Ranser Amador to line out to left, second baseman Danielito Remy to fly out to center, and center fielder Peterson Plaz to ground out to third. Planck needed only twelve pitches to turn the inning over, throwing eight of those pitches for strikes. In the fifth, Cristofer Dominguez replaced Planck, ending his night.
As it would turn out, it would also be the end of his professional career.
When the right-hander was signed as a starry-eyed 19-year-old back in 2016, the sky was the limit. Standing 6’3” and weighing just about 220 pounds, he had all the physicality to be a starting pitcher and his athletic body looked like it could grow and fill in even more. His fastball sat in the low-90s with arm-side run, and could supposedly touch as high as 96 MPH. Complementing it with a mid-80s slider and a mid-80s changeup, Planck had all the tools to go far. His control wasn’t the best, caused in part due to an inconsistent release point caused by the failing arms and legs of his delivery, but such a problem was far from unique from a prep pitcher.
The injuries did not sap much of Planck’s strength, as his fastball still sat in the low-90s through the 2019 season, but his raw secondary pitches showed how important the developmental time that he missed is to young pitchers. Given enough time, those likely could have developed, perhaps enough to rocket the right-hander up the minor league ladder, but in the end, the torn interior capsule in his shoulder and the subsequent surgery on it proved too much to overcome.
We often forget that baseball is just a game, and that after the popcorn stops popping, the hotdogs get cold, and the stadium lights turn off, the men on the field have lives to go home to. In his retirement press conference, Sandy Koufax told reporters, “I don’t regret one minute of the twelve years I’ve spent in baseball, but I could regret one season too many…I’ve got a lot of years to live after baseball and I would like to live them with complete use of my body.” Having just turned 21 this past March, Cameron Planck has his entire life to live. A college degree. A house. A wedding. Children. Grandchildren. With multiple attempts to get back on the field in any meaningful ways scuttled by sensations ranging from shoulder fatigue to outright pain, the youngster was faced with a choice: continue attempting to pitch- a wholly unnatural action that almost inherently damages the body- and further risk his surgically repaired shoulder or hang up his cleats and prevent any future damage.
In the end, he chose to look out for his future, and while it’s disappointing to see such a bright star go out before it had much of a chance to shine, you can’t begrudge him.