Like any boy who falls in love with baseball at a young age, Cole Plouck dreamed of playing professionally.
It seemed like a big dream for a tall, lanky teenager with no offers coming out of Empire High School.
Plouck didn’t even know if he would play again. Then, with the help of his Empire coach Tom Belter, he walked on at Pima College and the vision he once had started to become more and more of a reality.
The dream was fully realized earlier this month when Plouck, a 20-year-old pitcher, was selected by the Washington Nationals in the 16th round of the MLB draft with the 484th pick overall.
“After it sunk in, I felt so thankful for all the people who pushed me in the right direction,” Plouck said. “Not just telling me I could get drafted but just steering me the slightest bit. Everything worked out, I wouldn’t have changed anything.”
The Star recently caught up with the left-hander to take a look back on his journey to professional baseball and see what he’s hoping to do from here.
When Plouck was just a sophomore in high school, Belter noticed his ball movement and figured he could develop into a good pitcher and play at the next level.
That same season, Plouck helped No. 11 Empire pull off four straight upsets in the Class 3A playoffs to reach its first state championship game.
Plouck made relief appearances in all four games, earning three saves and striking out eight batters over eight innings.
“Right off the bat, I believed he could do something special, because he had that potential,” Belter said. “He had the right attitude, he had the drive.”
Plouck opened up his junior season even stronger: He struck out 19 in a one-hit shutout against Pusch Ridge Christian. Roughly nine weeks later, he hobbled into the state tournament with a sprained ankle and a dislocated finger on his pitching hand.
But that didn’t slow him, earning a complete-game win as the Ravens knocked off second-seeded Fountain Hills 8-6 in the first round.
Plouck finished with 213 career strikeouts, which is still the school record. He also left Empire as the all-time leading scorer on the basketball court with 913 career points before Deion James surpassed that mark earlier this year.
One of the things Pima College pitching coach Britt Echols wrote in a scouting report on Plouck during his senior season was “horrible mechanics.”
But a year later, when Plouck opted to walk on for the Aztecs, Echols taught him how to pitch rather than throw. Among other things, it led to his fastball topping out at 94 miles per hour.
“I throw a different curveball and change-up now,” Plouck said. “It’s night and day. When I see film of me pitching in high school I think, ‘that’s not me.’ It’s not even comparable.”
Last season at Pima, Plouck went 4-4 with a 1.43 ERA and registered 76 strikeouts in 81º innings pitched. He recorded four complete games and two saves.
Reaching for the top
Plouck has always kept a realistic approach to everything. His father, Dana, said they had told him he probably wasn’t going to play past high school.
“Looking back, we probably weren’t the most encouraging,” said Dana Plouck, who is Empire’s basketball coach. “Wherever he’s been, he’s put in the work and he’s been ahead of the game.”
Three days after being drafted Plouck left for Viera, Florida, to join the Nationals’ rookie affiliate in the Gulf Coast League. In an intrasquad scrimmage Tuesday, he retired all three batters he faced.
Plouck was originally drafted as a reliever but two pitches into his first bullpen session he said the coaches stopped him and told him he’s going to be a starter. He made his pro debut Saturday, pitching a scoreless inning. He gave up a hit and a walk while striking out one.
“I think five years from now I’ll be watching him on TV,” Dana Plouck said. “I hope I’ll be buying the MLB package and rooting for whichever team he is on.”