In 2009, Kevin Plawecki enrolled in a school that last won a conference baseball title in 1909. After 100 years of searching, Purdue found the player who would help change Boilermaker baseball.
Plawecki, a catcher from Carmel, Ind., went to Purdue as undrafted player out of high school. Both his parents are Boilermakers, making it a natural choice despite its lack of baseball success.
“I grew up bleeding black and gold,” he said.
Three seasons later, Plawecki departs Purdue for professional baseball as a landmark player. He is one of three finalists for the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission’s Johnny Bench Award, given to college baseball’s top catcher. He also earned Big Ten Player of the Year and tournament Most Outstanding Player honors, as well as three All-America honors.
“He’s been a guy that has been able to accomplish a lot of things that were on his plate,” Purdue coach Doug Schreiber said. “With big-time players, it’s just not all about the statistics. He’ll get a big hit. He’ll block a ball with a runner on third. It’s not allowing a runner to get in scoring position.”
The New York Mets picked Plawecki with the 35th pick (supplemental round) earlier this month and assigned him to the Class-A Brooklyn Cyclones. Whatever he achieves in the pros will need to be special to top his three seasons at Purdue.
The Boilermakers went 25-26 in 2009, the season before Plawecki’s class arrived. In 2011, they went 37-20 to tie a school record for wins and finished third in the Big 10. With eight starters and four top pitchers returning, expectations rose for 2012.
“We really made a pact at the beginning of the year that we were really going to go for it,” Plawecki said.
Schreiber tested an experienced team with a tough schedule. The Boilermakers won at Auburn and defeated Southern Mississippi in a tournament. They won at Missouri State and continued that trip with a split of a four-game series at Wichita State. In May, Purdue lost two of three at UCLA and edged Indiana State 2-1 in 10 innings.
Purdue won the Big Ten by a game over Indiana and its resume earned it the right to host an NCAA regional in Gary, Ind. It went 1-2, falling to Kent State and Kentucky, to finish 45-14.
“The target was on our backs,” Schreiber said. “These guys didn’t flinch and Kevin was the leader of that group. He’s very, very competitive.”
Plawecki (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) hit .359 as a junior with 20 doubles and seven home runs. He compiled a .421 on-base percentage and a .578 slugging percentage. He struck out eight times in 223 at-bats.
“I think he’ll progress pretty quickly (in the minors),” Schreiber said. “You’re going to want his bat in the lineup as often as possible. People talk about (former major-leaguer) Will Clark’s left-handed swing. He’s got that from the right, because it’s effortless.”
Plawecki took over calling pitches midway through his freshman season. Schreiber usually calls pitches for conference games because he believes coaches are best-prepared for that duty. Plawecki showed quickly he could handle the staff. His weakness is throwing, but Schreiber believes more practice will help his accuracy and power.
“I just trusted Kevin so much,” Schreiber said. “He’s one of those guys who is a tremendous leader behind the plate. He is definitely the best receiver and defensive catcher I’ve been able to coach.”