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Is There Still Hope for Kevin Plawecki?

When the Mets and Rene Rivera avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $1.75 million salary, it was an indication Rivera was going to return to the Mets as the backup catcher.  This also means the former supplemental round draft pick Kevin Plawecki is likely going to start the 2017 season as the starting catcher for the Las Vegas 51s.

Based upon the 2015 and 2016 seasons this is where Plawecki belongs as he has proven he is not yet ready to be a major league catcher.  In 121 major league games, he has hit .211/.287/.285 with four homers and 32 RBI.  Last year in AAA, he hit .300/.348/.484 with eight homers and 40 RBI in 55 games.  These were not outstanding numbers, especially for the Pacific Coast Leauge, but they represented a marked improvement over what Plawecki has shown in the majors.

At this point, the question is Plawecki destined to be a major league player, or is he a AAAA player like Eric Campbell, who just signed a deal to play third and hit cleanup for the Hashin Tigers.  The fact is with Plawecki turning 26 this February, it is still too early to determine.  However, we have seen some good things from him to believe that he still can be a major league catcher.

While it was once believed Plawecki’s true value was as an offensive catcher, he has established himself as a good major league receiver.  In his two years with the Mets, Plawecki has rated as a good pitch framer.  Additionally, while the advanced stats for catchers are flawed, Plawecki has posted an 8 DRS in his brief major league career showing he is above average defensively behind the plate.  This is impressive when you consider he has only thrown out 25% of base stealers as a major leaguer.

For the sake of comparison, Rivera has a reputation as a very good defensive catcher, and he has a career DRS of 12.  On a per inning basis, Plawecki has established himself to be the better defender.  However, it should be noted that Rivera has had more success throwing out base runners with his career mark of 36%.  What has held Rivera back in his career has been his bat.  In parts of eight major league seasons, Rivera is a .213/.264/.332 hitter who averages three homers and 15 RBI a season.

Looking at the data, it could be argued that right now Plawecki is actually a superior player to Rivera right now.  However, it should be pointed out Rivera is a 33 year old journeyman catcher.  When the Mets drafted Plawecki in the 2012 supplemental round, they were certainly hoping for more than just a journeyman catcher.

Ultimately, it will be Plawecki’s bat that decides whether he will be a journeyman, a career backup, or a bona fide major league starting catcher.  Before he was called-up to the majors, many believed Plawecki would hit.  For example, before his first call-up in 2015, The Sporting News stated:

Plawecki is a solid, reasonably polished hitter who should be an adequate contributor on offense. Overall, Plawecki has solid plate recognition, a consistent swing path and good raw power. He opts for contact over power in game settings, which will help his average but can result in weak contact on pitches he should be trying to drive.

Others felt that Plawecki had the potential to be an offensive force in the majors with, “One talent evaluator who has seen Plawecki likes as a solid everyday catcher in the majors, with enough power to hit 15-20 home runs a year.”  (Mike Vorkunov, nj.com).

However, that is not the Plawecki we have seen in the major leagues.  As a major leaguer, Plawecki has shown a tenency not just to pull the ball, but also to hit an exceedingly high rate of ground balls.  Moreover, he infrequently makes hard contact.  In today’s day and age of shifting, this has led to a number of easy ground outs to the left hand side of the infield.  As a result, we see Plawecki with a low batting average and a minuscule slugging percentage.

However, the talent is still there.  It is also important to remember really has not gotten sufficient time in AAA to develop.  In fact, he only played in 57 games at the level before he was rushed to the majors due to a Travis d’Arnaud injury in 2015.  As we saw in 2016, when he got an extended stretch of 55 games in AAA, while working with hitting coach Jack Voigt, he began getting on base more consistently and driving the ball more often just as he had done earlier in his minor league career.  At a minimum, this extended stay in AAA showed Plawecki still has promise.

Only time will tell whether Plawecki will be able to hit at the major league level.  However, in his career, we have seen he has the ability to hit.  More importantly, we have seen he has the ability to be a good catcher behind the plate.  Ultimately, Plawecki has a future in the major leagues due to his strong work behind the plate.  Accordingly, despite his early career struggles, Plawecki still has value.  Therefore, it is way too soon to give up on Plawecki.

With that said, he is going to have to show the Mets something sooner rather than later before the team justifiably moves on from him.  The Mets have d’Arnaud at the major league level, and Tomas Nido is not too far behind him.  This means that sooner or later Plawecki is going to have to do something in AAA or the majors to show the Mets he deserves one more chance to show he can be more than a journeyman.

Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Minors.

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