Cardinals 2015 First-Rounder Nick Plummer Is Once Again a Prospect

Nick Plummer was looking like a bust. Drafted 23rd overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015 out of a Detroit-area high school, the left-handed-hitting outfielder had a ho-hum debut summer, then he injured a wrist and missed what would have been his first full professional season. His next three years weren’t particularly fruitful either. Playing at the lower levels of the minors, Plummer put up a .194/.338/.309 slash line while fanning at a 32.3% clip. Add in last year’s lost-to-the-pandemic season, and the 24-year-old former first-round pick came into the current campaign with his stock having plummeted, and with his future very much in doubt.

That doubt is slowly dissipating. Given an opportunity to redeem himself at Double-A Springfield, Plummer has flourished to the tune of .307/.414/.507 line with 10 home runs in 268 plate appearances. Not coincidentally, his strikeout rate has improved to a still-too-high, yet much-more-palatable, 27.1%.

Earlier this season I asked the Brother Rice High School product — DJ LeMahieu is a fellow alumnus — about his previous struggles.

“Everybody’s journey is different,” responded Plummer. “That goes for baseball, just as it does for life. I think the biggest thing that’s helped me turn it around this year is having a mindset of learning from my past — my past failures — and applying the 1,200-1,300 at-bats I’d accumulated so far in the minor leagues. I’m fortunate to be with one of the best organizations in baseball. The Cardinals have continued to invest in me, and I’ve continued to invest in myself.”

Some tough love followed the 2019 season. Not only had Plummer batted below the Mendoza line in the High-A Florida State League, his .176 average was accompanied by 119 strikeouts in 356 plate appearances. Overaggressiveness wasn’t the issue. As the youngster explained, “I don’t chase a lot of pitches, but my in-zone misses — balls in the zone that I should do damage on — were too high. It would be like, ‘How did I miss that? I saw it early, so how am I missing that pitch? I shouldn’t miss that pitch.’”

Intent on not letting a promising career go down the drain due an inability to crush cookies, the Cardinals sat Plummer down and showed him some numbers. Next came an invitation to an October hitting camp, which wasn’t optional so much as it was badly-needed. The mechanical changes that followed were twofold.

“For me, trying to eliminate the in-zone swings-and-misses was about developing a swing plane that was in the zone for a longer amount of time,” explained Plummer. “Another adjustment was to minimize some movement. The way I like to put it is, ‘You want to stay in your telephone booth’ — not travel outside of that telephone booth as far as your head movement. I’d had a bigger leg kick that was hard for me to control. I would sway a lot on my back leg — I’d probably move a head and a half back — and when I’d go to make contact, my stride… I would go forward about two, two and a half head lengths. That made it hard for me to recognize spin early, and to be able to put my body in a position to get my A-swing off.

“That kind of goes hand-in-hand with the swing plane,” continued Plummer, who two weeks ago had a three-home-run game. “I had a short, quick swing, but it was short in the zone, and it was short out of the zone. My bat angle was too vertical. I was basically swinging like a ‘U.’ If the pitch was coming in flat, or with a little bit of hop, I’d be swinging at it almost like a pendulum. Making that adjustment has been big for me. I’ve always had loft to my swing, but what creates that elevation isn’t necessarily your swing path. A lot of it is where you’re making contact with the ball.”

Quality contact is happening far more often now, and as a result, Plummer is no longer looking like a draft bust. Instead, he’s looking like a future big-leaguer — albeit one who’s taken a frustratingly long time to turn the proverbial corner. It’s understandable that many people had begun to doubt him, and truth be told, glimmers of doubt had crept into his own mind as well.

“I’d be lying if I said they hadn’t,” admitted Plummer. “There were definitely some times where I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know if I’m cut out for this.’ But at the end of the day, when I’d go to brush my teeth and would look at the guy in the mirror, I knew what I was capable of. That and loving the game as much as I do — having as much fun playing the game as I do — has fueled me to keep going. I kind of look at it like a bow and arrow: The further you pull back, the farther it’s going to shoot. I just had to keep at it. So far, this season has gone pretty well for me.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

DO you think he cracks the org’s top ten?

1 year ago
Reply to  swilson1437

Gorman, Walker, Liberatore, Winn, Herrera, Burleson, Yepez, Nunez, McGreevey, and Baez are probably all ahead of Plummer still. Maybe Delvin Perez, Lars Nootbaar, Zack Thompson, and others in the lower levels are ahead too.
Plummer’s line is great, but he K’s a lot and is old for the league. If he keeps it up, especially if he moves to AAA, then maybe he can make it. I really hope he does.

Lou Schulermember
1 year ago
Reply to  teddyrugby

Plus Angel Rondon, who’s returning to where he was a couple years ago; Edwin Nunez, who’s taking some lumps as a 19-year-old in low A; and Brendan Donovan, who’s the same age as Plummer but strikes out less and plays multiple positions. I’m rooting for Plummer, but as you said, he has a narrow path to success.

Kyle Sharamitaromember
1 year ago
Reply to  teddyrugby

Mason Winn too

1 year ago
Reply to  swilson1437

The system is looking pretty deep at the moment, so probably not. But he looks like another late-bloomer for the Cards, continuing a tradition going back to Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, Matt Adams, and more recently guys no longer in the org like Arozarena, Adolis Garcia (if he sticks), and Wisdom (bigger doubt to stick).