The path to the Majors is anything but linear. In an ideal world, each first-round pick would make his Major League debut just a couple of years after being drafted.
That happens at times, but the reality is things are rarely so simple. The Cardinals selected Nick Plummer in the first round (23rd overall) of the 2015 Draft and his first few seasons hardly went according to plan. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Plummer missed all of 2016 with injuries and hit a combined .194 over the next three seasons, never advancing past High-A.
With his prospect stock fading, Plummer went to work.
The 24-year-old worked out back home in Michigan during the cancelled 2020 season and then drove to Florida in early January to work in the Cardinals hitting lab. So far, it's paying off.
“It’s kind of been cool, honestly, to come back after five, six years of being in the Minor Leagues and being written off and through all of that, through the hard seasons, seasons that haven’t gone my way, I’ve continued to keep faith in myself and my ability and knowing that I’m capable of being a big league player,” Plummer said. “ ... I’ve always bet on myself to be successful and have success, so it’s been cool to come out swinging really well this year and reestablish myself a little bit.”
Plummer’s strong start has put him back on the prospect radar. He is currently the Cardinals’ No. 30 prospect and hitting .299 through 40 games with Double-A Springfield.
While he’s made strides in a number of areas, Plummer points to both his swing and approach when asked what’s different this season. The work began at camps after the 2019 campaign and carried into the summer of 2020. It then ramped up at the hitting lab where he worked on blending mechanics and analytics through long days of drills, machine work, heavy bat training and mobility work.
“I’ve always had a good eye at the plate, good zone awareness, but in years past I’ve felt like my body hasn’t been in a good position to put an ‘A swing’ on pitches in different zones,” Plummer said. “I really tried to fill those holes by creating a bigger, longer swing path that gets in the zone earlier and stays in the zone longer.”
The results have been obvious for Plummer, who is not only hitting for a higher average but he’s driving the ball to the opposite field and his 24% strikeout rate is easily the lowest of his career.
“He’s making more contact,” Springfield manager Jose Leger said. “That’s something that he needed to correct. In the past, his swing-and-miss rate was fairly high. He’s making more contact, using the whole field. His swing, it’s a level swing that covers the strike zone and he’s also worked hard on swinging at good pitches and not going out of the zone.”
That speaks to approach and the mindset Plummer now carries with him as he steps in the box.
“Being able to trust my swing plane, trust what I’ve built and created and being able to mix that with my eye for the zone and my ability to see spin, see pitches well and trust my swing that I’ve created in the past year and a half has been the catalyst for reducing the strikeouts and being able to use the whole field,” Plummer said.
The offensive success so far has been nice, but Plummer knows all too well just how quickly things can change. When it comes to struggles, he’s “been there, done that.”
However, Plummer, who admittedly pressed during the beginning of his career and felt the pressure to perform as a first-round pick, now embraces his path and knows he's better equipped to handle and overcome future scuffles.
“You can grade all the tools on the field, but you can’t grade a mindset,” Plummer said. “I want it now more than ever just because I’ve had those years that haven’t gone my way, but I’ve learned through all those losses and all those lessons that I’ve had that this game takes time and everybody’s path is different.”