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The Cardinals Let Former First Round Pick, and Breakout Outfield Prospect, Nick Plummer Go for Nothing

Chicago Cubs

When the minor league free agents were announced, there was at least one name that immediately stuck out in a big way. That is not to say that he’s necessarily the best free agent on the whole list, but he was a Cardinals prospect who’d had a resurgent 2021 season, so he was already on my radar as a guy who was probably about to break out for the Cardinals in the big leagues in 2022. That’s just how it seems to work.

Instead, the Cardinals are letting former first round pick Nick Plummer go for nothing:

Plummer, 25, was the 23rd overall pick in 2015, and didn’t put up impressive numbers in the minor leagues for his first few years. He had good speed as an outfielder, but the bat never really developed. He wasn’t on my radar as a notable Cardinals prospect over the last couple years.

After the pandemic shutdown, though, he crushed at Double-A earlier this year, and got the bump to Triple-A to finish the season … where he hit even better:

(via FanGraphs)

Of particular note there, the walk and strikeout rate improvements this season – particularly at Triple-A to finish the year – stand way out, with a step forward in his power, too. That’s the trajectory of a guy, particularly one with former top prospect pedigree, that you simply don’t see NOT added to the 40-man roster at this point in his career.

So what is the deal? Why did the Cardinals let him go?

Well, I’m just going to have to do some guessing, and, while I don’t want to just automatically defer to the Cardinals’ judgment, there is clearly a reason that – despite seeing how he’d performed this year – they had internally evaluated him as not worth a 40-man roster spot. The last I saw a mention of Plummer, outside of various fawnings about his perceived breakout this year, was in a Kevin Goldstein chat two weeks ago. He said that, while he could see big league potential there, he wouldn’t necessarily call it “impact” potential. So take that for what it’s worth.

Setting that part aside, there’s the roster crunch. It’s a real thing for all teams, and they feel it in different areas. Although the Cardinals have just four outfielders currently on the 40-man, it’s possible they felt an overall position player crunch was coming in advance of the November 19 deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 Draft. A disproportionate volume of their top prospects are on the positional side at High-A through Triple-A, so maybe that was it? Combined with various internal evaluations that suggested Plummer wasn’t going to continue to succeed when he faced big league pitching?

Whatever the case, on paper, Plummer looks like an EASY AND OBVIOUS target for the Chicago Cubs, even if you totally ignore the part where they might get to troll the Cardinals with another one of their own first round draft picks. The Cubs will want Brennen Davis and Nelson Velazquez to be getting regular starts at Iowa, and you still want to know what you have in Greg Deichmann, too. But overall, it seems pretty hard to imagine the Cubs could not accommodate another upper-level outfield bat right now, because there’s not a lot of positional impact at Double-A/Triple-A right now outside of Davis and Velazquez.

The more interesting question is whether it would take a 40-man spot – a big league deal – to court Plummer right now. Just because the Cardinals didn’t have a spot for him doesn’t mean Plummer won’t have enough suitors that he won’t have to just take the best minor league deal with the best path toward big league playing time. He might be able to demand a 40-man spot.

Keep an eye on this one. That’s a really good outfield prospect who just hit the market.



Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.