By STEVE KRAH
Zach Plesac’s true introduction to professional baseball was delayed.
The Crown Point native spent the spring and summer of 2017 making up for time lost.
Plesac, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher, was selected out of Ball State University in the 12th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Two months before that life-altering June event, he underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his pitching arm, ending his college mound days and making the rest of the year about rehabilitation rather than facing batters.
At Ball State, Plesac had been splitting his time between pitcher, outfielder and designated hitter as a junior.
Head coach Rich Maloney brought Plesac to Muncie.
“He believed in me,” says Plesac. “I thought I was going to play a position and maybe pitch a little.”
When Plesac set a school single-season record for victories while going 12-2 with a 2.11 earned run average, 67 strikeouts and 33 walks in 85 1/3 innings and 25 appearances (six starts) as a freshman in 2014, his mound profile increased.
In 2015, he went 5-5 with 3.27 ERA, 77 strikeouts and 38 walks in 107 1/3 innings and 16 appearances (all starts). Since he could swing the bat, he was also used as an outfielder, DH and first baseman.
The came his junior season in 2016.
Mostly from the No. 5 hole in the order, he hit .304 with 15 runs batted in. As the Cardinals’ Friday night starter, he pitched in 11 games (eight as a starter) and was 3-2 with a 4.25 ERA and a nine-inning shutout against Miami University of Ohio.
“The next morning, I could not throw a baseball,” says Plesac. “I knew something was wrong.”
His next start came against Central Michigan and Plesac was still not feeling normal. A check of his arm revealed a partial tear.
Now he was faced with the decision of getting the surgery right away or staying in the lineup as a hitter.
“As much as I wanted to play, I didn’t want to be hurt,” says Plesac. “I had to do what was best for my career.”
While he was working his way back post-surgery in Arizona, he began taking online classes. He kept it up all season and has earned a general studies major with three minors (communication, psychology of human development and sociology).
“Now I can go into 2018 season and focus on playing ball with no nervousness (about school),” says Plesac, who is scheduled to walk in BSU winter commencement ceremonies Dec. 16.
Plesac finally walked up on a pro mound in game action in 2017 extended spring training action against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A witness to the event was Chris Fetter. He had been Ball State’s pitching coach and had become a pitching coordinator for the Dodgers.
“That’s my boy. He’s the man to me. He’s a mentor,” says Plesac of Fetter, who is now pitching coach at the University of Michigan. “He was there on the last pitch of my college career and first pitch of my professional career.”
Plesac was first assigned to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the short-season New York-Penn League. He went 0-1 with a 1.38 ERA for the Niles, Ohio-based club and made eight appearances (seven as a starter), starting with limitation of three innings.
After Mahoning Valley came a stint with six starts for the Low Class-A Midwest League with the Lake County Captains. He went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA for the team in Eastlake, Ohio. By season’s end, he was up to five innings or 60 pitches. He wound up the season with 50 strikeouts and 14 walks in 51 total innings.
“Finding the (strike) zone was a big key for me,” says Plesac. “That’s what I wanted to work on. If I can find the zone, it doesn’t matter how hard I’m throwing. I could be effective.”
Plesac used his fastball most in 2017, followed by his change-up (which became his most-effective pitch), slider and curve. He saw his velocity return and he was regularly hitting the gun at 91 to 94 mph with his fast one.
“I had so much confidence,” says Plesac. “I felt ready. I didn’t feel like I was a year behind.
“I’m coming out max effort. You have to be smart with how you pitch. Max effort doesn’t mean you lose control. I’m so comfortable. I’m just trusting in God.”
The righty is happy to say he goes into 2018 with no innings restrictions.
“I’ve put in the work,” says Plesac. “I’ve got good routine to help me keep moving forward.
“Daily, I’m growing and becoming wiser about the game.”
Plesac views his time since starting in pro ball as a period of personal growth.
In college, he was on a schedule based on practices and what the coaches dictated. As a pro, he has been able to take the reigns of his schedule.
“It’s really fun,” says Plesac. “The people I’ve met have changed my life.”
He is pleased to be going through the journey with the Indians.
“I fell into best organization,” says Plesac. “They know how to treat people. This (delayed start) has been a blessing — to be honest.”
Plesac is in the same organization with Elkhart Central High School graduate and left-handed hurler Tanner Tully. The two were roommates for the 2013 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and both play in the Area Code Games.
Since the 2017 season wrapped, Plesac has been able to spend time in Los Angeles where girlfriend and former BSU diver Quinn Bixler is in graduate school at Loyola Marymount University and working out with Jordan Smolar at NWI Performance in Crown Point.
A a Crown Point High School athlete, Plesac earned three letters in baseball and helped the Steve Strayer-coached Bulldogs to a 27-4 record in his senior season of 2013 and to sectional and regional titles in 2011. He also claimed two letters each in football and basketball.
Strayer made an impact on Plesac then and still does.
“He groomed me into who I am as a baseball player and a man,” says Plesac. “I can remember when I was freshman practicing with the other kids. I was at third base. I made a bad throw to first and I said, ‘it slipped.’ He told me, ‘don’t make excuses ever.’
“Now I don’t make excuses for anything happens. You can’t get caught up in that. I’ve been able to go to Coach Strayer for all types of things. He’s been a good person in my life. He’s always helped me out.”
Plesac who turns 23 Jan. 21, is also taking the time to catch up with family.
Ron and Jeannie Plesac have three children — twins Zach and Ronnie (Zach is 10 minutes older) and Frankie (15).
Ronnie Plesac pitched at Parkland College in Illinois and State College of Florida. Frankie Plesac is a Crown Point sophomore ballplayer.
“He’s there for me whenever I need him,” says Zach of man who in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and won 65 games and saved 158 for the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies.
The pitcher plans to attend a strength camp in January before heading back to Arizona for spring training.
“I’ve caught myself up ability-wise,” says Plesac. “I’m ready to rock.”
Zach Plesac, a 2013 Crown Point High School graduate, made his pro baseball debut in 2017 with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The right-handed pitcher was drafted in 2016 by the Cleveland Indians and spent the season rehabbing from Tommy John reconstructive surgery. He pitched three seasons at Ball State University (2014-16). (Mahoning Valley Scrappers Photo)