Ready or Not, Kevin Plawecki’s a Big Leaguer

The recent promotions of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Carlos Rodon have created a good deal of buzz these past couple of weeks. Deservingly so. Kiley McDaniel ranked the trio first, third and eighth respectively in his pre-season rankings. Any time a prospect of that caliber gets called up to the big leagues, it’s certainly newsworthy.

But there was another promising, young prospect who recently got the call. But his debut was somewhat overshadowed — at least outside of the New York region — by Russell and Rodon, who both debuted on the same day. As you probably guessed by the title of this piece, that player is 24-year-old Mets catcher, Kevin Plawecki.

Plawecki got the call to replace Travis d’Arnaud, who broke his finger after taking a pitch on the hand. d’Arnaud’s expected to miss at least the next month, but that timeline could easily grow longer given the unpredictable nature of hand injuries. Plawecki — and not the objectively handsome, yet offensively challenged, Anthony Recker — will pick up the lion’s share of playing time in d’Arnaud’s absence, meaning Plawecki will play a crucial role for the surprisingly-competitive Mets.

Plawecki may not have the cachet of the other guys who got called up over the last couple of weeks, but he’s a pretty well-regarded prospect in his own right. A supplemental first round pick in 2012, Plawecki placed 40th on Kiley McDaniel’s top 200 list last winter, and landed in the middle of just about every top 100 list out there.

Plawecki’s widely considered to be an adequate defensive catcher, but he makes his bones with his bat. Kiley gave his hit and power tools future grades of 55 and 45 respectively. These grades translate into roughly a .270, 13 homer performance. An offensive peak like that would be pretty valuable coming from a catcher — along the lines of what Dioner Navarro did in his 2 WAR season last year.

Plawecki doesn’t just look the part of a good hitter, but also has the numbers to back up his reputation. In 303 minor league games, he hit .289/.366/.432, which was good for a 127 wRC+. The power hasn’t really shown up yet, but Plawecki’s low strikeout rates and healthy walk numbers have enabled him to put up solid on-base numbers at every minor league stop.

It’s hard to quibble with Plawecki’s overall minor league track record — A 127 wRC+ from a catcher is pretty darn remarkable. However, his performance at the Triple-A level was a little less stellar. In 221 Triple-A plate appearances between this year and last, he hit .269/.324/.408. That sounds decent enough at first glance, but after accounting for his league (PCL) and his home ballpark (Las Vegas), it’s actually not all that impressive. As a couple of anecdotes, Taylor Teagarden and Matt den Dekker both OPS’d over .900 in Las Vegas last year. In fairness, though, Plawecki’s .284 BABIP suggests the performance dip wasn’t entirely his fault.

Possibly the biggest flaw with my current KATOH model is that it doesn’t directly account for a players’ defensive position. This isn’t a huge deal in most cases. Stolen base totals act as a decent proxy for defensive skill, as most players who man premium defensive positions — such as center field and shortstops — also steal bases. However, catcher is the one position that falls through the cracks. Catchers provide loads of defensive value, but almost all of them — including Plawecki — hardly ever steal.

I’m working on collecting the data I’ll need to address this issue, but for now, the best I can do is work around this flaw. So don’t dwell too much on Plawecki’s KATOH forecast of 3.2 WAR through age-28. If KATOH knew Plawecki was a catcher, it would surely rate him more favorably. Instead, let’s unpack the components of his offensive stat line, and see what it might be able to tell us about his future prospects.

Plawecki’s low strikeout totals were the most notable aspect of his minor league performance. He struck out just under 11% of the time as the minor leaguer, and never more than 12% at any of his five minor league stops. A minor league hitter’s strikeout rate is one of the strongest predictors of future success in the majors, so Plawecki’s ability to put the ball in play is certainly a point in his favor.

Many players who strikeout that infrequently also draw very few walks. They’re early-count hitters, who swing early and often. But that’s not the case with Plawecki. While he doesn’t walk a ton, he did manage league average-ish walk rates throughout his minor league career. This shows that he has some semblance of a plan, and isn’t just putting the ball in play aimlessly. This is especially important in the high minors, where hitters’ walk rates start to have non-negligible predictive value. Plus, Plawecki’s complimented his strong plate discipline with a smattering of pop. While he’s averaged just 11 home runs per 500 plate appearances, his ISOs have been better than his league’s average more often than not.

As someone who can hit a little bit, and can also hold his own at a premium defensive position, Plawecki stands a good chance of developing into a useful player. He could even be a very good player if his power comes along as many expect it will. Kiley gives his game power a 30 right now, but anticipates it will climb to 45 as Plawecki matures as a hitter.

As of this writing, Plawecki’s hit .182/.217/.318 through 23 plate appearances with the Mets, which works out to a 54 wRC+. That’s not a particularly impressive showing, but it’s also way too small of a sample to infer much of anything. But small sample or no, Plawecki’s lackluster Triple-A numbers suggest he’s most likely a below-average major league hitter right now. Going forward, Steamer and ZiPS anticipate 94 and 83 wRC+ marks form the catcher respectively.

If the Mets had their way,  Plawecki would almost certainly still be in the minor leagues. He didn’t force his way onto the roster, but is here because the Mets think he can do more to help them win than Anthony Recker, or any of the team’s other alternatives. Based on the numbers, it seems as though Plawecki still had quite a bit left to prove in the minors.

But after a hot start, the Mets are looking more and more like of a playoff contender each day. And given the team’s dearth of catching options, it’s worth giving Plawecki a chance to learn on the job. With any luck, the power comes along, and Plawecki approaches his upside more quickly than you’d expect based on his minor league trajectory.





Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Yirmiyahu
Member

Not to be that guy, but that’s a pretty glaring typo.

joser
Guest
joser

You mean “cache” where the author meant “cachet”? Yeah, I’ve been seeing that one a lot recently (it seems to have taken root in the US Military, where the term “weapons cache” is frequently pronounced cash-aye)

Yirmiyahu
Member

No, joser, I was referring to “of” vs “or” in the title. Chris has since corrected it in the title at the top of the page. It’s still visible in the URL.

No big deal.